Case Study: Microbiology - Triton College

Digital Product in Use:

Connect® Microbiology

Course Name:

BIS 122 Introductory Microbiology, Lecture and lab

Course Type:

Traditional (face-to-face)

Credit Hours:


Textbook in Use:

Foundations of Microbiology: Basic Principles by Talaro & Chess, 8e

Instructor Name:

Gabriel E. Guzman


96/term (instructor total)

475/year (university total)

Case Study Term:

Fall 2011

“Using LearnSmart has allowed me to approach `homework’ in a completely different way. Before, it was almost impossible for me to provide feedback to my students in a timely manner. With LearnSmart, feedback is immediate and students know exactly where they should focus and what their weaknesses are, and are able to keep on track and on task.”

-Professor Gabriel Guzman

Digital Solution Leads to Increase of Two Letter Grades on Exams

Professor Gabriel Guzman recognized that one of the main challenges for his students is to develop the intellectual behavior essential to learning. He incorporated LearnSmart into his Microbiology course to increase the probability that students who have not developed solid or well-structured study habits would learn and retain the content. With his course learning outcomes aligned to the Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive domains, he aimed to implement LearnSmart to develop the two basic cognitive levels: remembering information (knowledge) and understanding information (comprehension).

His hypothesis was that having students complete LearnSmart modules would develop the basic cognitive levels necessary to learn and retain the content, which would not only help them better understand the material, but also help them to be more prepared for exams. His prediction was that students who successfully used LearnSmart would earn higher exam scores and course grades than those who didn’t.

Guzman reports that “after collecting data for five semesters, including two 8-week intensive courses, the trend was very clear: students who used LearnSmart scored higher on exams and tended to achieve a letter grade higher than those who did not.” In fact, on the two most difficult exams in his course, students who did not use LearnSmart earned, on average, 68 points while those who did earned 83 points, a 22% increase from a letter grade D to a B.

Institution Profile

Triton College is a two-year institution located 14 miles from downtown Chicago. Over 17,000 students enroll each year, and approximately 850 continuing education courses are offered each semester to provide opportunities to improve their current job skills, learn new job skills, or pursue personal interests.


Course Description:

BMG 140 Introduction to Business covers functions, objectives, problems, organization, and management of modern business. Students develop insight into the vital role of the administrative function in our economy as a whole and in the operation of a single business unit.

Course Grade:

  • 40% of the final grade based on lecture work (exams, group activities, and peer instruction activities)
  • 30% of the final grade based on lab work (including practical lab exam)
  • 20% of the final grade based on final exam
  • 10% of the final grade based on modules within McGraw-Hill LearnSmart™

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect Microbiology

Prior to Connect Microbiology being available, Professor Guzman required his students to use LearnSmart, assigning them to work through one LearnSmart module a week for 20-25 minutes per day until the module is completed with at least 70% completion to attain 100% credit for that chapter’s module. He began using Connect Microbiology in Fall 2011 and now assigns LearnSmart through the assignments in Connect.

In addition to the LearnSmart assignments in Connect, he uses the eBook to make annotations for his students so they can access his notes when reading. He also creates reading assignments that he says “focus students on the most important parts of each chapter, not only helping them prepare for their peer instruction activity in class, but also helping the instructor better organize the information to be presented during lecture and peer to peer discussions.” He adds, “Integrating peer instruction means lecturing less (in the traditional way) and letting students discuss more.”

Guzman has also taken advantage of Connect’s integration with Blackboard so that students can access their Connect assignments right from the Blackboard homepage and the grades are automatically synced between the two systems.

Results Achieved

The data shows that students who are required to use LearnSmart have increased average exam scores (see Figure 1). In 2009, Guzman did not use LearnSmart, and in 2010, he introduced it as an optional tool. In 2011, Guzman made LearnSmart a required part of the course, which made the difference.

Guzman reports, “After incorporating LearnSmart, the percentage of A’s has increased by 24% and the percentage of B’s has decreased by 37%. The percentage of C’s also decreased by 33%. It is worth noting that in 2010 LearnSmart was an optional tool for my students, so the percentage of students who used it (i.e. completed all assigned modules) was not high. Nevertheless, comparing 2010 with 2011, the percentage of A’s increased 23%, while the percentage of B’s and C’s decreased by 45% and 33%, respectively.”

He also realized the importance of incorporating LearnSmart into the course as a graded requirement for students. If LearnSmart is an optional study tool, many students will not take advantage of it. Students who completed LearnSmart modules earned significantly higher grades -- a B versus a D -- on the two most difficult tests (see Figure 2).

The pattern of improved test scores holds true over a two-year period as well. When data is compared between four semesters -- Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, and Fall 2011 -- test scores continue to be higher for students who use LearnSmart (Figure 3).

The data shows that the number of modules completed and the percentage of each module that is completed also correlates with higher test scores. Further, analysis of data collected in February 2012 for one test shows that students who completed the assigned modules scored 80 points or a B compared with students who did not use LearnSmart scoring 60 points or a D. This trend was observed with a larger sample from data collected over two years (Figure 4). The more modules the students completed and the more thoroughly the students completed the modules made a real difference in the students’ test scores.

Along with improved test scores, Guzman appreciates that LearnSmart reports give him the opportunity to monitor the students’ performance and activity, allowing him to intervene early with students who may need extra help early in the semester. He says, “The adaptive nature of LearnSmart makes it possible for me to give feedback to students who struggle.

Without it, I would still be giving students questions to answer, then getting the questions back, grading them (which would take a few days because of the number of students), and then providing personalized feedback to each student. By having students work on LearnSmart, my feedback can be provided more quickly because, when I check the reports online, LearnSmart identifies which students are struggling so that I can approach them before it is too late in the semester.”

To further determine the effectiveness of LearnSmart, Guzman charted which students completed the LearnSmart modules and compared those students’ grades to the analysis provided in the LearnSmart Metacognitive Skills report. His analysis showed that when 60% or more of a student’s answers can be described as “correct and aware,” the student’s exam scores tend to be a C or higher. Similarly, when 30% of a student’s answers can be described as “Incorrect and unaware,” the student’s score tends to be below a C.

As a result, Guzman divided them into two zones to provide personalized feedback: “Confidence” and “Risk.” Students who did well on the LearnSmart modules were listed as “very confident in his/her knowledge” or “confident in her knowledge, but might not be taking advantage of the `time-out’ advice that LearnSmart provides.” Students who had not worked on their LearnSmart assignments or who needed to spend more time learning the material were listed in the “Risk” category. Guzman then annotated their results with comments like: “Needs to study material before working on LearnSmart; may not take `time-out’ advice to go read the material again before continuing self-testing.” For those students who had not participated yet, Guzman noted: “Has not done any work on LearnSmart; one-on-one conversation required.”

“LearnSmart has helped me to understand exactly what concepts I do not yet understand. I feel like after I complete a module I have a deeper understanding of the material and a stronger base to then build on to apply the material to more challenging concepts. LearnSmart is better than flashcards because I don’t just memorize the material, I understand it. I have also used the reports to review the questions I missed most often, which is a great way to review before a test.”

- Student at Triton College


Connect and LearnSmart increase student knowledge, understanding, and comprehension of the material when they are required as part of the course grade. Exam scores are higher and overall grades shift upwards. Further, the use of Connect in the classroom gives the instructor a tool to identify students who may be struggling with the course. By checking their progress through the LearnSmart modules, Professor Guzman encourages his students to stay on track and on task. This awareness and guidance gives students the best opportunity to succeed in the course.