Case Study: Biology - University of Cincinnati

Digital Product in Use:

Connect® Biology

Course Name:

Biology 104: Life on Earth

Course Type:


Credit Hours:


Textbook in Use:

Essentials of Biology by Mader, 2e

Instructor Name:

Frank Wray


120/year (instructor total)

Case Study Term:

Fall 2009

Connect with LearnSmart has helped engage the learner in a way I didn’t think was possible.

It has also helped me to be a more reflective teacher and pinpoint class issues with a topic.”

-Professor Frank Wray

Digital Course Solution Improves Student Retention and Increases Engagement

Professor Frank Wray was looking for a solution that would help him to offer all class content online while adapting to his pedagogical style. He found that Connect® Biology not only met this need, but also increased student performance, engagement and retention in all of his courses. Students demonstrated higher mastery of concepts by using LearnSmart™ adaptive study modules, which monitor student performance and adapt instantly based on their knowledge.

Institution Profile

The University of Cincinnati is a member of the University System of Ohio, and is classified as a Research University by the Carnegie Commission. The University serves 40,000 enrolled undergraduate and graduate students across 15 colleges. This includes Raymond Walters College, a two-year campus offering career programs at the associate and technical baccalaureate levels, professional certificates, and transfer programs articulated with baccalaureate programs. Raymond Walters College serves a diverse student population, 75 percent of whom are working while going to school.


Course Description:

Biology 104 is a three credit introductory general biology course for nonmajors that fulfills the University General Education requirement in Natural Science. Professor Wray’s online course required students to complete Connect Biology modules as well as one virtual lab simulation per week. The average course enrollment is 20 students per section.

Course Grade:

  • 45% of the final grade based on quizzes within Connect
  • 25% of the final grade based on interactive question activities within Connect
  • 10% of the final grade based on LearnSmart modules
  • 10% of the final grade based on homework assignments within Connect
  • 5% of the final grade based on McGraw-Hill Virtual Labs
  • 5% of the final grade based on written reflections

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect

Having used commercial and open source solutions without success, Professor Wray described the UC Biology Department - which offers both blended and online courses - as “in transition” in terms of online instruction and assessment resources. Professor Wray led a review of online instructional resources available on the market and selected Connect Biology because of its student-friendly features and functionality, as well as its flexibility for faculty. It is used in conjunction with Blackboard, a course management system.

Professor Wray used Connect to assign homework, quizzes, eBook assignments, custom assignments, and modules of LearnSmart, a powerful adaptive learning system integrated in Connect. Students received an average of four assignments per week, each covering one or more sections of the eBook. Interactive assignments averaged 5-6 questions, animation assignments averaged six questions, and homework assignments averaged 20-25 questions.

Professor Wray was able to assess student academic performance more efficiently through Connect’s robust Student Progress Tracking, Diagnostic and Learning Plan, and Reporting functions. “We are much better able to assess whether students are actually learning something,” he says. “The reporting function made the instructors much more efficient, and armed them with valuable data to help students master the material.”

Results Achieved

Professor Wray’s students achieved a completion rate of 83 percent of the LearnSmart modules. He noted that as the assignment completion rate increased, student mastery of concepts also improved. Student retention rates have also increased by 20 percent, from 70 percent to more than 90 percent (see Figure 1). Professor Wray attributes the increase to the courses being “more intuitive” for students. There has been increased rigor in course content, and an increase in overall student confidence, with marginal students demonstrating the most marked improvement.

In addition, Professor Wray experienced a significant reduction in administrative time spent creating and grading assignments thanks to the Simple Assignment Manager and Smart Grading features in Connect Biology.

“I love the LearnSmart modules! I always complete these prior to the interactive and homework assignments so I can gauge where I am as far as my comprehension of the topic.”

“I thought that the LearnSmart module was a great resource for the gene linkage material.”

- Students at University of Cincinnati


Professor Wray found that Connect Biology made his online biology course more robust, enabling him to cover more academic content. He plans to continue to refine his courses within Connect Biology, and to use it for both online and traditional courses. He also recommends Connect Biology to other faculty members.