Case Study: Biology - Northwest Vista College

Published February 23, 2017

Digital Product in Use:

Connect® Biology

Course Name:

Biology 1308

Course Type:


Credit Hours:


Textbook in Use:

Biology: Concepts and Investigations by Marielle Hoefnagels, 2nd edition

Instructor Name:

Brian Stout


30/term (instructor total)

1,000/year (university total)

Case Study Term:

Fall 2011

“The Connect system is really easy to use. It’s easy to set up assignments and due dates and roll everything over to a new semester.

Connect provides interactive material for online courses which can help improve student engagement and understanding.”

-Professor Brian Stout

Interactive Learning Improves Students' Passing and Retention Rates

Professor Brian Stout wanted a way to increase student success and retention in his online non-majors biology course. He felt that the interactive learning offered by Connect and LearnSmart would work more effectively than the static assignments he previously assigned. After implementing Connect Biology, he saw an improvement in course pass rates by 8.5% and retention rates by 6%. In addition, he has greatly reduced his time spent both setting up his course and grading assignments.

Institution Profile

Northwest Vista College opened in the fall of 1995 as a new addition to the Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Texas. It offers associates degrees and two-year certificates to an annual enrollment of 15,921 students.


Course Description:

This course includes a study of fundamental principals of living organisms, including physical and chemical properties of life, organization, function, evolutionary adaptation, and classification. Concepts of physiology, genetics, ecology, and the scientific method are also included.

Course Grade:

  • Two exams (200 points each) - 400 points
  • Connect quizzes (20 points each) - 160 points
  • Discussion Board postings (30 points each) - 240 points
  • LearnSmart assignments (20 points each) - 240 points

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect Biology

Professor Stout starts out the semester by providing clear instructions on how to register so the students get access right away, and he follows it up with a simple assignment due the first week to get students familiar with Connect. This has worked well for him: “I was surprised at how easy it was for students to get access. I worried that many students in my online class might drop it after learning that they’d be working with a separate system and that there would be many problems with students getting access, but there was not.”

He then assigns one or two LearnSmart modules (about 40-50 minutes each) and one Connect quiz (approximately 20 questions) each week in his eight-week online course. He recommends that students complete LearnSmart assignments before taking the quiz because it is self-paced and it provides practice on the material that students can access over and over until they feel confident with it. He takes advantage of the gaming characteristics of LearnSmart by inviting his students to compare their progress to the rest of the class, just for fun. He says, “Overall, students seemed to like LearnSmart and there were several good comments about the organization of the class.”

Results Achieved

“The major benefit of Connect with non-science majors is that the materials focus on big-picture ideas and concepts rather than drilling down on specifics,” Professor Stout observes. This allows him to foster students’ higher-level thinking skills without getting bogged down in discrete technicalities of the subject matter.

Another benefit is that quizzes are graded automatically and provide students with immediate feedback. The automatic grading saves Professor Stout valuable time and gives students real-time correction on misunderstandings of the material.

The reports are also a great boon to Professor Stout. “I use the reports to examine and post grades and LearnSmart results to check how long students are spending on the assignments. Especially for an online class, knowing that students are spending enough time online is important for getting a feel for how much effort students are putting into the class,” he says. When a report identifies students who are underperforming, Professor Stout contacts them immediately by e-mail to encourage them and to help them get back on track. Doing this keeps his lower-achieving students from falling behind.

The most valuable benefit of implementing Connect Biology was an increase in student engagement that led to an 8.5% increase in pass rates from 61.9% to 70.4%. He attributes this improvement in part to an improvement in performance by lower performing students (Figure 1).


Retention rates, a perennial concern in online courses, were also higher, increasing from 87% to 93%, a 6% improvement (see Figure 2).



Professor Stout is pleased with Connect Biology and its ability to improve student engagement and understanding. He plans to continue using Connect in his biology courses as well as his anatomy and physiology courses. He also recommends it to his colleagues as a required part of the course grade.