Case Study: Lucas - Northern Illinois University

Digital Product in Use:

Connect® Lucas

Course Name:

COMS 100 Fundamentals of Oral Communication

Course Type:


Credit Hours:


Textbook in Use:

The Art of Public Speaking by Stephen E. Lucas, 10e

Instructor Name:

Tim Pierce


3 sections - 25 students/section

75 students/term (instructor total)

2500-3000/year (university total)

Case Study Term:

Fall 2011 and Fall 2014

“Students are more engaged and will bring up something they remember from SmartBook in class discussions.”

-Professor Tim Pierce

Connect/SmartBook Steadily Improves Student GPA Scores and Pass Rates

Professor Pierce has used Connect/SmartBook for over four years and continues to see students’ success rates improve. Student GPAs are approximately 1 point higher – from 2.00 to 3.00 — because Connect/SmartBook requires students to read the text, and in-class activities motivate students to master the content. Consequently, pass rates also continue to climb. In previous semesters, pass rates averaged 85%. In Fall 2014, pass rates climbed to an average of 93% — that’s an improvement of 8%! Pierce says, “Connect is an excellent teaching tool. You can improve student learning.”

Institution Profile

Northern Illinois University is a four-year comprehensive research institution 65 miles west of Chicago. Approximately 15,000 undergraduate and over 5,000 graduate students choose from approximately 70 fields of study offering bachelor, master, JD, and doctorate degrees, at the seven degree-granting colleges: Business; Education; Engineering and Engineering Technology; Health and Human Sciences; Law; Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Visual and Performing Arts. The instructor to student ratio is 15:1 and, for the academic year of 2013-2014, over 5,000 degrees were awarded.


Course Description:

This course is a general education requirement that is designed to develop oral communication competence in listening and speaking skills. The oral communication competencies are: rhetorical purpose, speaker/audience adaptation, establishing central themes, supporting materials, arrangement of ideas, linguistic style, nonverbal style, and speaker/audience interaction.

Course Grade:

The grade is determined by the following:
SmartBook/Online Engagement – 10% of the course grade
Quizzes – 10% of the course grade through Connect
Speeches – 50% of the course grade
Peer/Self Assessments – 15% of the course grade
Final Exam – 15% of the course grade

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect

Pierce chose to use Connect/SmartBook in his classes because he wants students to read the textbook. “I know that students aren’t reading texts in the same fashion; but, if I could get them to do the work and access the text in a way that would allow them to learn the material, I figured I would have accomplished something.”

To make sure students are reading the material, he requires his students to use Connect. “If students feel that Connect is optional, they’ll never use it the way you want them to. If you require it, students will use it and get the benefits of using Connect.”

Pierce assigns two to three chapters of SmartBook material that is due before class. Once a week, students also must participate in an online quiz that stays open until the beginning of the next class. “I have a total of 100 questions for quizzes that are evenly divided among the different assignments for each week.”

Connect has changed dramatically the way Pierce prepares for his lectures. “In the past, I would have one lecture that I would use for each class section. Now, I use Connect to help me customize my lectures for each section of my course, so I’m better able to adapt my class to the needs of my students.”

To help him identify those areas where his students may be struggling, Pierce uses the reporting features in Connect: Assignment Results, Student Performance, Assignment Statistics, Item Analysis, and At-Risk Reports. “I love the At-Risk Report because it boils down how the student is engaging with the system with a number out of 10. I use this score as an online engagement grade that I update each Friday so that students can see if the scores move up or down from week to week. If the system flags the student as being severely at-risk, I reduce the at-risk score to 0 and e-mail the student asking him or her to make an appointment to meet with me to come up with a strategy for improvement.”

Pierce looks at Module Details, Missed Questions, and Most Challenging Learning Objectives in SmartBook to determine whether he will plan an activity, lecture, or a mixture of the two for the next class. The lecture will focus on the SmartBook items that students had difficulty with and are based mostly on the Module Details report from Connect.

Pierce says, “I use the Module Details to see which objectives students are having difficulty with as a way of tailoring my lecture. I always show the graphs from the Module Details report to the class so that way the students can see the data for themselves. I pull up the Missed Questions on SmartBook and use them as a way of organizing the lecture.”

“I can see which students are approaching the material and how much time the student is spending on their homework. If I have a student in my office, I can show him or her what I see about his or her progress and use the data as a point of discussion to help him or her improve.”

Results Achieved

Pierce has used Connect/SmartBook for four years and has continued to implement Connect/SmartBook’s quizzing, homework, and reporting tools to help students learn. “In lecture, I want to cover material that students are having difficulty mastering. I’m constantly using the reports in Connect to find out what I need to focus on, which makes my in-class time much more relevant and also gives me the time to provide activities for students to apply material.”

Because he fine-tunes his lectures to address areas where each section has struggled with the course content, he has watched the students’ GPA scores improve steadily (Figure 1). “Overall, since 2011, course GPAs have increased from 2.00 – 2.50 to about 2.50 – 3.00. This semester, the overall GPA is 3.15.”

Additionally, Pierce says, “Overall exam rates are higher. The average class score of 73% is typical across all sections.” Higher exam grades lead to an improved overall pass rate. Previously, students passed at a rate of 85%. This semester students passed at a 93% rate – 8% more students passed the course (Figure 2). Two sections in Fall 2014 experienced a 100% pass rate!

Pierce is also pleased that after implementing Connect/SmartBook he has been able to reduce the amount of time he has to spend reviewing homework, giving quizzes, and grading, and he gets to spend more of his time prepping for lecture and finding new ways for the students to apply concepts and actively learn in his classrooms (Figure 3).

Pierce explains, “Connect helps me to spend time in class doing two things. First, I can find out before class what concepts the students are having trouble grasping. This allows me to come to class with a modified lesson plan that focuses more on those concepts. Second, I find that I can spend time focusing on activities that reinforces particular concepts and makes the class more enjoyable for the students.”

“I like that Connect is much cheaper than the textbook, which many students appreciate.”

“I look at final exam scores to define the success of my course; it’s great the final scores have creeped upwards.”


Connect/SmartBook encourages students to read the textbook, allows the instructor to customize lesson plans for the in-class application of textbook concepts, and, ultimately, improves students’ GPAs and pass rates. Over the four years that Pierce has implemented Connect/SmartBook in his courses, he and his students have improved students’ GPA scores by 1 point – from a 2.00 to a 3.00, which is a C to a B – and have improved students’ pass rates by 8% — from 85% to 93%. More students learn and succeed when given the opportunity to study content using Connect/SmartBook. “If you want students to be engaged with the material, Connect/SmartBook will do it.”