Central Michigan University

Connect® Composition, LearnSmart Achieve, and Power of Process Gives Students a Backbone of Writing Skills and the Confidence to Write

Prior to using Connect, Instructor Jennifer Jeremiah managed assignments with Blackboard and through face-to-face communication with her students. She graded all assignments by hand and transferred her grading data to Blackboard manually.

Connect and LearnSmart Achieve (formerly the Personal Learning Plan) captivated Jeremiah as soon as she heard about it. She was excited to meet students at their individual levels and assign "backbone" material targeted to meet a student's individual struggles and applaud a student's strengths.

Jeremiah wanted her students to focus more on global ideas within their papers instead of focusing on sentence-level issues, and she wanted her students to increase their critical reading and thinking skills through Power of Process, wherein students think about the process of reading, how authors are perceived, and how, as writers, they can become an author that they would want to read and trust.

Jeremiah used Connect in her online and her face-to-face courses because, not only were students working on elements essential for clarity, credibility, and sometimes basic competency, but Connect also provided her with insightful data that allowed her to shape the larger discussions. Jeremiah adds, "The seamless integration with Blackboard was a total bonus. The grades transferred right over."

Jeremiah began seeing improvement with her students' papers and ideas very quickly. She had hoped that LearnSmart Achieve would help students work on their grammar and other elements of writing so that when students were ready to work on major papers, the students would have more knowledge about writing and would be more confident. The strategy worked. "Sure enough," Jeremiah says. "The sentence-level issues decreased drastically, and students began to write about topics they were passionate about."

Additionally, Power of Process became a critical element in helping students truly think about their writing and the purpose of each assignment. Students were able to walk through the process circle, answer questions about their own papers, and find issues with authors' works that they otherwise would have thought were "perfect" because the material was published.

Jeremiah says, "Students started `thinking' and engaging—both huge victories for my online courses."

Connect is truly a backbone that allows students continuous, personalized interaction. It's what we wish we could be for our students if it were possible for us to be there with them one-on-one every step of the way. Connect, LearnSmart Achieve, and Power of Process activities are extremely powerful and engaging tools and are true game changers for my classroom.
Jennifer S. Jeremiah


The course grade is determined by the following:
50% — Major Writing Assignments
20% — Exams
20% — Connect Activities (LearnSmart Achieve and Power of Process)
10% — Other Coursework

The first semester Jeremiah implemented LearnSmart Achieve, she assigned it as one long activity that students could accomplish over the duration of the full semester at their leisure. She wanted the students to work on the "backbone" of writing. "As you can imagine," Jeremiah says, "students started out strong, paused for the entire middle of the semester, and then rushed to complete the activities at the end of the semester."

After that semester, Jeremiah says she became very intentional about how she implemented Connect into her course. "I began pairing certain activities with each paper. I'd have students focus on the rhetoric section of LearnSmart Achieve the week before we began our Rhetorical Analysis essay; or, I'd have students review research strategies before beginning the large research project for the semester." For every major assignment, Jeremiah had a LearnSmart Achieve activity to accompany it.

She also used Power of Process to complement each individual writing assignment. "I'd have students examine a paper that correlated with our writing strategy or goal. McGraw-Hill already includes several examples within the program that work beautifully."

Jeremiah would have the students' process circle contain applicable strategies, such as: locate the writer's main ideas and supporting elements, identify sources the author used (or point out that the sources were lacking), and agree with or challenge the writer. "The questions always align with what I want the students to learn and to implement in their own papers related to our specific focus at the time." Jeremiah says, "I even have students submit their own papers at least once in the course and complete a process circle on their own papers. Students have the opportunity to see their papers in a new light—to find what might be missing, identify organization that may be lacking, and applaud themselves on the paper's strengths."

Jeremiah uses the data from Connect activities to gain critical insight before beginning a discussion. Before covering research preparation, for example, students complete LearnSmart Achieve activities on research. "Almost always," Jeremiah says, "I'm surprised by what information my students need, and that changes each semester. The data in Connect is already calculated and nicely laid out so that I can see—in as little as five to ten minutes—where students are struggling."

In Connect, Jeremiah uses reports such as Assignment Results, Student Performance, Assignment Statistics, Item Analysis, Category Analysis, and At-Risk Report. "Assignment Results is basically a grade book," Jeremiah says, and she can see how much time a student worked on a particular activity.

In LearnSmart, Jeremiah uses Progress Overview, Student Details, Module Details, Missed Questions, Metacognitive Skills, and Most Challenging Learning Objectives.

Jeremiah uses the Missed Questions and Student Details reports before preparing for a class or for a meeting with a student. "I'm able to see how the overall section is performing and understanding the material as well as how individual students are performing -- and even how long it takes a student to complete an activity."

Results Achieved

The average grade for the course improved with Connect while the failure rate decreased by 2% (Figure 1).

However, Jeremiah believes the real value of Connect may not be quantifiable. Without Connect, Jeremiah says that her students struggled more and were less dedicated to the process of becoming better writers. "Many students turned in papers at the last minute, didn't put much or any effort into revisions, and showed little desire to work on citations and find credible sources," she says.

With Connect, these concerns are addressed within both LearnSmart Achieve and Power of Process. Jeremiah says, "Students internalized powerful ways to engage their writing skills and become effective writers via these tools. The interactive practice within Connect is invaluable to encouraging students who are learning how to write well-crafted papers."

In more recent data collected, nearly twice as many students earned A's when Connect was used in the course. Fifteen students who used Connect earned an A; whereas, without Connect, only 8 students earned an A. "That's a notable difference," Jeremiah says, "that showcases not just 'competency' but also a commitment and a belief that they can become better writers."


Although the data may not show giant statistical gains, Jeremiah notes that Connect improves students' writing and encourages their efforts to grow as writers. "Connect is truly a backbone that keeps students thinking about their writing," Jeremiah says. "Without Connect, students can be awkwardly disinterested in their own writing; however, with Connect, as the semester progresses, students become more confident in their writing and earn better grades."

Connect meets students where they are—not only academically, but culturally. The current generations have been raised with technology, and interacting online is much more engaging to them than simply answering and submitting questions. Connect fills this gap for my students.

Jennifer Jeremiah is an English instructor at Central Michigan University (CMU) where she has taught composition since 2009 in both face-to-face and online platforms. She now teaches fully online through CMU’s Global Campus and has partnered with McGraw-Hill as a Digital Faculty Consultant since 2014, helping to assist instructors bridge the communication and efficiency gap within the online teaching world. Jennifer lives in Williamston, Michigan with her husband and three daughters.

Digital Product in Use: Connect® Composition
LMS: Blackboard
Course Name: ENG 201 Intermediate Composition
Course Type: Online
Credit Hours: Three
Program in Use: The McGraw-Hill Handbook (as an eBook), 3rd edition, by Elaine P. Maimon and The McGraw-Hill Guide: Writing for College, Writing for Life, 3rd edition, by Duane Roen, Gregory R. Glau, and Barry M. Maid
Instructor: Jennifer S. Jeremiah
Enrollment: 22 students per section; 1 section; 725 year (university total)

Instructor's implementation goals

  • Target students' individual writing weaknesses
  • Encourage students to focus on more global ideas within their papers instead of sentence-level issues
  • Use an auto-grade resource that an instructor can trust—one that encourages student improvement and offers information that students needed
  • Reduce tedious grading time overall
  • Track students' progress through the course
  • Assess and address individual student needs quickly

Issues for instructor before using Connect:

  • Increase critical reading and thinking skills
  • Provide opportunities for students to truly think about writing and the purpose of each assignment
  • Spend time noting sentence-level errors instead of engaging students in thinking about their writing as a whole
  • Unable to identify and intervene when a student may be struggling in the course

Benefits to instructor after using Connect:

  • Students started thinking and engaging in their writing
  • Fewer sentence-level issues to distract from writing well-crafted papers
  • More students earned A's
  • Automation reduces grading time drastically
  • Ability to look at class and student performance reports to identify where students may be struggling
  • Able to use gathered data to structure classes for more discussion opportunities
  • Students request more Connect-related activities
  • Fewer vague students' comments such as "I'm not good at English" replaced with more insightful comments such as "I struggle with commas"

Course Description:

English 201: Intermediate Composition is a course in intensive writing, designed to help develop analytical and critical thinking skills essential to mature written expression, and develop competence in and master strategies of written expression appropriate for learning across the curriculum and in a variety of general academic and/or professional areas.

Institution Profile:

Established in 1892, Central Michigan University (CMU) is located in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and is one of the largest public universities in the United States. More than 20,000 students enroll for on-campus classes; another 7,000 students enroll online. CMU provides academic programs for undergraduate, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees and is recognized nationally for its programs in entrepreneurship, journalism, music, audiology, psychology, and engineering.