Case Study: Connect® Psychology - Mercer County Community College

Digital Product in Use:

McGraw-Hill Connect® Psychology

LMS Integration:


Course Name:

Abnormal Psychology

Course Type:


Credit Hours:


Program in Use:

Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspetive on Psychological Disorders by Whitbourne & Halgin

Instructor Name:

Heather Jennings, Ph.D


4 sections; 300 students/section, 120 students/year

Case Study Term:

2009-2011 (with Connect)
2012-2015 (with Connect)

Exam Scores Improve for Students in Abnormal Psychology as well as Introductory Psychology with Connect and SmartBook

Dr. Heather Jennings adopted Connect to bridge the gap between in-class and out of class time for students. In the case of Abnormal Psychology, Dr. Jennings says, she was seeking a product that would engage students in the class content outside of class. “I wanted my students to have read the material to some degree before coming to class,” she says, and having done so, “they could build upon this existing knowledge in the classroom.”

Dr. Jennings’ students say they have a better grasp of the content of her psychology classes since she implemented Connect and SmartBook. The students’ test scores demonstrate their improved understanding with higher average test scores in nearly every exam administered in both Dr. Jennings’ Abnormal and Introductory Psychology courses.

Heather Jennings

“Students have reported more comprehension and confidence in the course material, and the transparency allows students to actively understand their course standing.”

– Dr. Heather Jennings


Course grade is determined by the following:
50% – Three in-class exams
15% – SmartBook homework assignments
15% – Diagnostic review paper
10% – Three in-class quizzes
10% – Film review paper

To ensure students come to class prepared and ready to learn, Dr. Jennings incorporated SmartBook through Connect into the Abnormal Psychology class as a homework feature. She assigns a SmartBook homework assignment ahead of each week’s classes. “It encourages the students to complete the activity before attending class since it is a required element of the course, with a point value assigned to increase student motivation.” That point value gives students incentive to get the work done. “I learned that students must know that the faculty believe in the program, otherwise they won’t see the value in it themselves,” she says. For that reason she assigns significant point value to their work in SmartBook.

Dr. Jennings assigns one SmartBook assignment each week, for each chapter of the text book. Typically, there are 10 chapters covered in the class. “I set the chapter parameters (and) learning objectives to 30 minutes per chapter on average,” she says. This means that students spend an average of 30 minutes with each chapter’s content before they attend the lecture. Dr. Jennings uses the SmartBook assignments as a replacement for traditional static chapter quizzes that she had used before.

Connect makes it possible for Dr. Jennings to easily identify how students are understanding the material before she prepares for each class. Before each lecture, she uses the reporting features in Connect which help her see if her learning objectives are being met by the class. “If there is something significant I can identify in the content [that’s creating problems] I can revisit it in class.” The reports she finds the most useful are:

Connect Reports

  • Student Performance – Dr. Jennings utilizes the Student Performance report to see the performance of individual students and to see how the level of confidence correlates to mastery of the material.

  • At-Risk – She uses this report to periodically review students’ progress. “I keep watch on certain students who are not performing at the level expected.”

SmartBook Reports

  • Progress Overview – ”I use the Progress Overview to get a quick snapshot of what my class is doing in terms of the chapter material,” she says.

  • Student Details – Dr. Jennings finds the Student Details report useful when technical grading issues arise. She also finds the report useful to get a more detailed picture of the student’s performance.

  • Metacognitive Skills – Dr. Jennings finds the Metacognitive Skills report no less than fascinating. “I am always interested in the students who don’t know they’re not getting it!” she says. “The Incorrect & Unaware section of the Metacognition Skills report is so telling and very useful to me as the instructor,” she says. “I can use this information to gain a better understanding of my students’ needs.”

Dr. Jennings has integrated Connect with Blackboard to make it easy for students to access assignments and scores. She creates a course shell for both face-to-face and online courses that provide all of the Connect assignments to the students in one easy location. Students can then register for their Connect course through Blackboard which in turn seamlessly links their grade books. “Students rarely have trouble syncing their Blackboard and Connect accounts, and I have seen an increase in usage and a decrease in reports of student confusion and frustration since the implementation. Students are registering without trouble, syncing their accounts easily and completing the work without issue. The integration of Connect with Blackboard has been flawless,” she says.

Results Achieved

Dr. Jenning’s goal was to ensure the students comprehend the chapter content, and she says she has accomplished this with Connect. Her prep time remains the same as it was before launching the program, she says, but with the use of SmartBook, Dr. Jennings finds that she spends less time grading quizzes. With the adaptive questions in SmartBook, she spends less time each semester creating new assessments. In addition, she is confident that students are not looking for ways to cheat on quizzes and exams. But the most measurable gains are in the test scores. Since she implemented Connect, overall exam scores have increased in both Abnormal Psychology and Introductory Psychology (Figure 1).

Intro to Psychology scores were up between two to eight percentage points (Figure 2).

Her Abnormal Psychology class also realized gains with the implementation of Connect. Exam scores in this class increased by an average of nearly three percentage points (Figure 3).

Finally, due to the reduced cost of the Connect subscription, students are lowering their educational expenses, which Dr. Jennings points out is a key benefit for many of those in her class.

Instructor’s implementation goals:

  • Finding an online program that would engage online students

  • Ensure students are reading the text chapter before class.

  • Encourage those students to come to class prepared to learn.

Issues for instructor before using Connect:

  • Students weren’t always prepared when they came to her face-to-face or online lectures.

  • Student comprehension rate was disappointing.

Benefits to instructor after using Connect:

  • Overall test results are higher in both Abnormal Psychology and Introductory Psychology.

  • Students report a better understanding of the topics in the course.

  • Students are saving money by purchasing Connect directly through McGraw-Hill.

Course Description:

Abnormal Psychology investigates how biology, behavior and environment interact in complex ways to produce what is defined as abnormal. Historical material, pertinent research and relevant case studies provide an understanding of abnormal psychology and its impact on all of us.

Institution Profile:

Mercer County Community College offers associates degrees and numerous credit and noncredit certificate programs in its West Windsor campus and in its James Kerney Campus in downtown Trenton, NJ. The two-year college serves about 12,000 students, three-fourths of whom live in Mercer County. More than 35 percent of Mercer’s graduates transfer to four year colleges and universities. The three most heavily enrolled areas are liberal arts, nursing and business. Mercer County Community College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

"This is a very well-developed and wonderful learning tool that will help your students increase their comprehension and mastery of the course material. All they have to do is actually use it and it will help."


Connect helps the students with the mastery of the course material, which links directly to Dr. Jennings’ course objective. Not only do students come to class better prepared to learn, Dr. Jennings is able to use Connect to identify students’ learning needs. "This program has decreased the major challenge of getting students to read the chapter content before coming to class," she says. And SmartBook does more than just get them reading, it engages students in the learning process, Dr. Jennings adds, even without her being there to guide them. When asked what are her plans for using Connect in the future, Dr. Jenning responded, "I will continue to use Connect in every class I teach."