Case Study: Sociology - University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa

Digital Product in Use:

Connect® Sociology integrated with Blackboard Learn

Course Name:

SOC 101 Introduction to Sociology

Course Type:


Credit Hours:


Textbook in Use:

SOC (2011) by Jon Witt and Experience Sociology by David Croteau and William Hoynes

Instructor Name:

Tiffiny E. Guidry


200 students per section

4 to 5 sections per terms

2,000/year (university total)

Case Study Term:

Spring 2011 (without Connect/SmartBook)

Spring 2014 (with Connect/SmartBook)

“Connect is very intuitive. It is easy for students to use, and it is currently easy to implement on the Instructor’s side.”

-Tiffiny E. Guidry

Connect/Smartbook Motivates Students Through Customized Learning Experience

Dr. Tiffiny Guidry needed an online platform able to handle large numbers of students efficiently. “Connect allows me to provide a very streamlined course with the text and assignments all in one place, making it easier for students to acquire meaningful knowledge in an online format designed to handle a large number of students at a time.”

She also wanted to find a way to address student complaints about online courses: “The complaints often heard from students are that online courses are unorganized, impersonal, and one-size-fits-all. Connect helps me to at least mitigate, if not alleviate, some of these issues.”

Further, based on final grade comparisons, 81% of Dr. Guidry’s students earn grades of A or B with Connect as compared to the 62% of students who earn A or B grades without Connect. She believes, “The success of this course is due to Connect.”

Institution Profile

The University of Alabama, founded in 1831, is Alabama’s first public college. Today, the university has an undergraduate enrollment of just under 29,000 students and is ranked 86th by the U.S. News & World Report in Best National Universities. Popular undergraduate majors are Business, Management, Marketing, and Communication and Journalism. The Alabama Crimson Tide sports teams are huge competitors in the NCAA Division 1 Southeastern Conference and more than 7,000 students are involved in the school’s Greek system.


Course Description:

The course, designed to provide students with an introduction to several of the major areas of study within the field of Sociology, begins with basic theoretical frameworks and some common methodologies used to gather scientific data. Overview and analysis takes the students through different levels – from micro, person-to-person interactions, all the way through to how social organizations and institutions interact with each other and with individuals.

The course is structured around the textbook, which is what drew Guidry to Connect initially. She appreciated the level of integration of the text with the materials: “There was no pdf to download; no separate file to open. Students could move seamlessly between the text and assignments.”

This had not been her experience with other available platforms at the time. SmartBook was also a major draw. “The ability to tailor a student’s learning experience toward the things the student doesn’t know rather than what the student has already grasped is incredible, especially when there are huge numbers of students involved. This experience allows the course to be individualized for each student rather than offering a one-size-fits-all, `canned’ course experience.”

Course Grade:

The grade is determined by: Exams (30%), Quizzes (30%), LearnSmart (30%), Discussion (6%), and Essay (4%).

Students are required to complete the reading, a quiz, and SmartBook for each chapter covered. For students who choose to keep the course entirely online, Guidry recommends purchasing the Connect Plus with eText option, though many students still prefer to have a hard copy of the text they are using. Guidry adds, “McGraw-Hill has created a print-on-demand package for me to offer for this course at the university bookstore on campus that includes a looseleaf version of the text and an access code for Connect Plus with eText, which gives students access to everything they might need.”

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect Music

Organization is the key for handling hundreds of students per semester. Guidry appreciates Connect’s value to herself and to her students for organizing content, study questions, quizzes, discussion topics, and essay suggestions. Her courses are designed for maximum efficiency. “My courses run like clockwork. Students are aware of the schedule and deadlines, and grades are posted on time.”

Guidry uses SmartBook as a mandatory, graded assignment, which builds a study mechanism into the course. Guidry states: “The really wonderful part, though, is that the students don’t see the same questions they miss over again, so they can’t just memorize answers! The material will appear again, but it will be asked in a different way.”

Exams are all conducted through Connect as well. Guidry adds, “Connect has cut down drastically on time I spend grading. This platform has excellent integration with Blackboard Learn in terms of grade transfers.”

“Each chapter has 2 assignments consisting of one Quiz and one SmartBook which students are expected to complete weekly. Quizzes consist of 10-12 questions each with point different values depending on their worth and have open and close times to manage availability to students.

“The SmartBook assignments are customized with only the topics I choose to cover and the approximate amount of time I want students to spend on the assignment, which is usually ~20 minutes. Because this assignment is a study tool and every student can get 100% if they put in the effort, it is worth less than the Quiz. The additional value to the student is they can return to this assignment at any time and continue to use it as a study aid even once they have completed it and received full points.”

The Connect integration also enables her to deploy not only her Connect assignments through Blackboard but to build more assignments and still have everything in one place. She assigns both Discussion Groups and Essay topics through Blackboard Learn.

There is usually one Discussion Group per Unit – each Unit consisting of 3-4 Chapters. Essay topics are assigned by section, and each section of the course is assigned a different topic to write on during different Units of the course - Section 1 will have an Essay due with Unit 1, Section 2 will have an Essay due with Unit 2, etc. This way the submissions are staggered during the semester, which makes grading easier. At the end of each Unit there is an Exam.

She says the “integration is excellent with our current Blackboard Learn system. It is not necessary to send separate registration information to students or show them how to access Connect; the Instructor pairs a course created in Connect with a section in Blackboard Learn, imports graded assignments, and rearranges the links as necessary in Blackboard. Columns for all graded assignments will appear in the Grade Center and all assignment settings in Connect are transferred to Blackboard. Altering an assignment in Connect will alter the assignment in Blackboard, though it does not seem to disrupt the connection between the two. All scored work completed in Connect is automatically transferred to Blackboard, allowing students to monitor their own progress. If a score fails to transfer for some reason (it does happen...frequently), then it can be updated by hand without disrupting anything.”

Guidry also used the Tegrity service to record lectures for her course which are representative of her classroom lectures. They are only redone as needed so she finds that now she doesn’t have to spend any time recording except for those that may need updating.

Results Achieved

Guidry’s success metrics were that 1) students were largely passing the course, and 2) few complaints were made about the course and how it was run. Connect has helped her achieve these goals.

When comparing the sets of data from two sections of students in Spring 2011 (200 students who did not use Connect and SmartBook) versus two sets of students in Spring 2014 (200 students who were required to use SmartBook), the benefits of using Connect and SmartBook are clear: 108 students out of 200 (54%) who were required to use Connect and SmartBook earned As in the course compared to the 41 students out of 200 (21%) prior to Connect’s required use (see Figure 1).

Collectively, more students pass with As and Bs using Connect and SmartBook than without (see Figure 2). In Spring 2014, 162 students earned As and Bs (81% of the enrolled students) compared to Spring 2011 when 123 students earned As and Bs (62%) – an improvement of nearly 20% in students’ grades (see Figure 3).

Guidry attributes the students’ success to the organization of the course and the students’ own ability to meet deadlines. “Overall, students seem to have very positive reactions to using Connect. They appreciate how organized the course is and that everything is very self-contained -- everything for the course can be accessed in the same place. McGraw-Hill also offers students a few different ways to purchase access to the course, depending on how much students can spend and which materials they want to have available.”

Further, Guidry lets the students work at their own pace in this course. “We have to meet university deadlines at different points, which means that students do have to work with the deadlines I set, but there is a lot of flexibility within that structure. I could not do this in Blackboard Learn alone. The success of this course is due to Connect.”

“There are a number of different types of assignments possible; I can combine pre-written and reviewed materials with materials of my own creation. SmartBook and LearnSmart are phenomenal learning and study tools.”


Guidry needed a way to manage an online course for hundreds of students and wanted the experience for the students to be as painless – and as successful -- as possible. Connect enables Guidry to teach hundreds of students at a time and for 81% of those students to still be able to maintain an A or B grade in the course. “Connect has solved the one-size-fits-all problem of online courses because a student’s experience in this course is largely dependent on the student.”

Connect gives Guidry the tools she needs to teach a large number of students and Connect gives those students the learning opportunities for individual success in the course.