Case Study: McGraw-Hill Connect® Biology - Mt. Hood Community College

Connect & LearnSmart Labs Enable Educators to Design a Lab-Intensive Biology Course Entirely Online—And Help Students Achieve Success

Dr. Lisa Bartee was tasked with developing an entirely online version of the General Biology 101 and 102 courses that were presently being taught face-to-face. The new course design necessitated online labs. “After evaluating all the options available, including `lab in a box’ systems that the students would order, we decided that LearnSmart Labs were the best overall choice.”

Bartee says the choice was clear because of several reasons. LearnSmart Labs is the only option that gives students immediate feedback on what they are getting right and wrong. “Students don’t get as much out of the labs if they have to wait a week or more to get corrected labs back.” They were also the least expensive option that allowed Bartee to assign the labs that covered the topics included in the course. Because Bartee assigns the videos and readings through SmartBook®, she appreciated how the adaptive and personalized learning of the LearnSmart Labs complemented SmartBook, the adaptive reading experience available through Connect. “I like the fact that LearnSmart Labs are formatted in the same way as the SmartBook. I think it helps the students when they don’t have to learn to use completely different systems for different assignments.”


Course grade is determined by the following:

22% – LearnSmart Labs

16% – SmartBook

16% – Quizzes administered within Connect

20% – Exams administered within Connect

16% – Written assignments

10% – Final project

Bartee designed the new online course around Connect assignments with course content structured in units by week in Blackboard. Each unit is organized in the same manner so that students always know what assignments are due and roughly how long it will take them to complete each assignment. “My students really like the fact that they have the same type of assignment every week. They always know what to expect.”

The units cover no more than one chapter, although some weeks cover only a few sections from the chapter when there is material that Bartee knows the students may take longer to master. “Using Connect allowed me to structure the class using the same types of assignments every week. Also, students like the online labs and really appreciate that they don’t have to come to campus at all to complete the course.”

Students are asked to watch an introductory video to SmartBook and then instructed to read the assigned sections and complete the SmartBook assignment over those sections.

Students then complete that week’s LearnSmart Lab activity and a written assignment that Bartee develops. She links the content to the scientific method or “real life” examples. She says, “I actually think the labs are incredibly easy to implement.” Bartee divides some of the lab assignments into two different segments and tries to keep the labs to less than two hours of estimated time, which she’s able to adjust in the instructor view when setting up the assignment. Bartee uses the time she saves from not having to grade or prepare for lecture to thoroughly read and comment on the written assignments each week: “Since the written assignments are the part of the class where most of the connection and critical thinking takes place, I appreciate being able to devote more time to it without feeling like students aren’t getting any feedback on their other assignments.”

Bartee appreciates the individualized learning of the LearnSmart Labs because students have to work through each step of the lab on their own. “When students are in a face-to-face setting, often one person in a lab group is answering most of the questions and the rest of the group is just copying.

The last assignment of each unit is a 20 question “practice quiz” that students are able to take three times. Quizzes and exams are all open book; the highest score counts toward their grade. Bartee assigns topic study guides for each chapter. The online students and the students in the face-to-face classes use the same study guides (with a few exceptions, depending on what material was covered). Bartee says, “The quizzes are based on the SmartBook chapters and I also pull in some specific lab-based questions that involve identification of parts of the scientific method and data analysis.” All students take the same final exam that Bartee wrote using the question editor in Connect

Instructor's implementation goals:

  • Design a biology course, with an interactive lab component, entirely online

Issues for instructor before using Connect:

  • Keep the lab component in an online course
  • Structure the course consistently for online learners

Benefits to instructor after using Connect:

  • No lecture preparation necessary
  • Able to monitor student progress by reviewing Connect reports
  • Spend more time developing written assignments that require more critical thinking skills of the students

Bartee utilizes the LearnSmart Labs instructor reports along with the Connect and SmartBook reports. The LearnSmart Labs instructor reports allows Bartee to quickly monitor student activity, making it easy to identify which students are struggling and provide immediate help to ensure that those students stay enrolled in the course and improve their performance. The Connect and SmartBook reports, including Student Performance Reports, Item Analysis and Most Challenging Learning Objectives, uncovers the content questions students may be struggling with the most. “I look at the item analysis for each quiz to determine if anything needs to be modified for the next term. If a large percentage of students miss a particular question, I can email the whole class with additional resources.”

Results Achieved

Course Description:

General Biology I: Survey of Cellular Biology 101A and General Biology I: Survey of Cellular Biology explore topics in the cellular basis of life, including cell structure, cell function, and the metabolic processes that impact cells. BI 101 introduces students to biology as a scientific discipline and engages students in the process of scientific discovery.

Institution Profile

Mt. Hood Community College, located in Gresham, Oregon (just outside of Portland), offers over 120 academic programs to approximately 33,000 students. MHCC offers transfer possibilities to four-year colleges and study abroad opportunities.

After implementing Connect, SmartBook and LearnSmart Labs, Bartee’s online classes almost always fill to capacity and lab space scheduling is no longer an issue. Bartee comments, “Additionally, we are attracting online students from outside our area, which is something that the face-to-face classes couldn’t do.”

Bartee is now able to spend an estimated two hours per week per section concentrating on active learning/critical thinking discussion and written assignments. “The difference is that I can concentrate on the written assignments that I’ve developed for my online class that target non-content objectives (like evaluating source credibility and doing experimental design) and give students more extensive written individual feedback. In my face-to-face classes, I have to spend more time grading assignments that involve less critical thinking because those assignments aren’t automatically graded.”

Connect has helped to increase enrollments in the course. Bartee says, “Connect has allowed us to design an entirely online non-majors Biology course which has sections that have filled up every term we have offered them, while enrollment college-wide has decreased.”

Connect has also been a factor in student success. “Students who complete all the assignments always pass the class. Connect allows me to give them as much time as they need to complete the assignment and most of the assignments they can work on until they achieve mastery.” Bartee says. “And students really like using Connect. I get very positive reviews for the class.”

Students add:

  • “I absolutely love SmartBook. I think it’s great, and the LearnSmart Labs are awesome, too. Wish every online class were like this one!”

  • “I really enjoyed this class. It was my first time taking a science class online, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Loved it so much I will be taken BI102 next term!”

  • “The information stuck with me more than from actually doing lab class in school.”

“Connect covers all the content needed for the course and brings in the scientific method, especially important for the labs. Not having to grade or prepare for lecture, gives me time to develop and read written assignments that cover the non-content course objectives, such as making connections and critical thinking.”


Bartee was able to develop a lab intensive biology non-majors course online and structure the course content to help students achieve success. “Connect allows me to give students as much time as they need to complete the assignment. For most of the assignments, students can continue to work with the content until they master the material.”