Case Study: Connect® Chemistry - Viilanova University

Villanova University

Digital Product in Use:

Connect / SmartBook / ALEKS

LMS Integration:


Program in Use:

Chemistry, 11th edition, by R. Chang and K.A. Goldsby, McGraw-Hill Education

Course Name:

1151 CHM—General Chemistry I

Course Type:


Credit Hours:

3 hours

Instructor Name:

Amanda Grannas, PhD


22 students per section; 3 sections; 530 year (university total)

Case Study Term:

Fall 2013 (without Connect / SmartBook / ALEKS) and Fall 2014 (with Connect / SmartBook / ALEKS)

ALEKS and SmartBook Help Students Strengthen Comprehension, Retain Material and Master Concepts

The focus of Dr. Amanda Grannas' SmartBook and ALEKS implementation was to provide effective learning opportunities across the student spectrum. For students with weaker backgrounds who needed to build prerequisite and basic course knowledge, SmartBook and ALEKS allowed them to identify and spend needed time on their areas of weakness early on to avoid falling too far behind. For strong students, Grannas appreciated that students could "work ahead" and still feel challenged by the class. Grannas says, "The key to success is savvy implementation. The course structure and grading format needs to be carefully considered for the best student outcomes and best student 'buy in.'" Overall, she wanted to find a way to encourage all of her students to strengthen their understanding of the concepts, retain the material longer, and master the subject matter.

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect

20% - ALEKS
5% - SmartBook
15% - Recitation problem-solving sets
60% - Exams

Each week, the students have one SmartBook assignment and one ALEKS assignment. Grannas assigns SmartBook chapters for the students to complete prior to coming to class, where she would begin the discussion regarding that material. She expects students to use SmartBook as a means for class prep (conceptual oriented questions, guided readings, etc.) and spend about 30 minutes per reading assignment. Since requiring SmartBook, Grannas has found students come to class more prepared, and thus ask more in depth questions during lecture time.

The ALEKS assignments are used as the "meat and potatoes" work for problem solving and usually consist of between 10-15 topics with unlimited time to complete. Grannas says, "I am a big fan of ALEKS. It is grounded in pedagogically sound practices, and the adaptive style is great. Students get a lot from it, even if they don’t realize it at the time."

Homework in ALEKS is due as topics are completed in the textbook, organized by chapter, and worth 20% of the grade. Half of this percentage is based on the completion percentage of the intermediate objectives; the other half is based solely on the percentage of mastery at the end of the course, regardless of when the mastery happened. ALEKS assessments are scheduled approximately every two weeks (after every other assignment on average).

Dr. Amanda Grannas

"Students have a habit of trying to memorize material long enough to get it right on exams. Retention and mastery is not necessarily their goal, as they are very grade-driven. I saw ALEKS and SmartBook as a means to strengthen the students’ retention of information that would lead to eventual mastery of the material">– Dr. Amanda Grannas

Grannas says, “You need to be upfront with students that SmartBook / ALEKS is a lot of work, but that in the end it is worth it.”

Students agree and comment:

  • "SmartBook helped me get a better idea of what we would be learning before we began the chapter in class."
  • "SmartBook helped me review and keep up with my studies on a weekly basis, so I didn’t push off studying until the last minute. The highlighting of important topics is a great feature."
  • "SmartBook was useful and helped my progression of understanding key topics as well as gave me the opportunity to improve my grade through challenging but manageable assignments."
  • "I liked ALEKS more as the semester progressed. It helped me to understand the harder topics covered in class."
  • "I had never done much online homework but enjoyed doing it this semester with ALEKS because it was very helpful and personalized."
  • "I think ALEKS was extremely helpful even though I had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with it."

Progress was monitored by reviewing students' completion of ALEKS intermediate objectives. If students were slipping, Grannas would have a one-on-one meetings to brainstorm a strategy on ways to improve. "I encouraged students who were behind to come to me during office hours and get outside tutoring. I encouraged those who were ahead to keep working and refreshing the topics to make sure they were retaining the material."

Grannas also used SmartBook and ALEKS reports to see where the class overall was struggling so she could spend more time on those topics in class or in the recitation periods. Grannas says, "I can more easily tailor my lectures to go over areas where many students appear to have problems or troubles. I can also identify students who are having difficulties with course material earlier, so they don’t fail the material on an exam."

Course Description:

General Chemistry I is a survey course of fundamental chemical concepts and models. Theory and practice are used to emphasize critical thinking and problem solving skills. The course covers the principles and practical aspects of chemistry and will provide a critical foundation for future courses, such as organic chemistry. Linking the course material to other areas of chemistry, science, and technology will be important to illustrate the applicability of what is learned in class to a wide variety of disciplines.

Institution Profile

Villanova University, founded in 1842 by the Order of Saint Augustine, is in a suburban community 12 miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova provides a comprehensive education in the liberal arts by providing a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees to approximately 10,000 students.

Results Achieved

Requiring SmartBook and ALEKS as a significant part of the course grade encourages students to stick with the assignments and helped improve the percentage of students passing with A’s and B’s from 82% to 85% (Figure 1). Grannas says, “I was able to see more of the C and B students move into the B and A ranges, due in particular to the use of ALEKS.”

Percent of Students Who Earned A's and B's chart - Villanova University

Grannas believes that, "ALEKS needs to be a significant part of the grade because it is so much work—much like parents making their kids eat broccoli." Students agree and comment:

  • "ALEKS has been the most valuable piece of technology used in this course. I have been able to remember constants and equations that I have never been able to recall in past science classes. ALEKS also reinforces how to do the problems and examples that we are taught in lecture and recitation, so the constant repetition has really driven this chemistry knowledge into my head."
  • "ALEKS imprinted the concepts into my mind! Very helpful."
  • "ALEKS, though at times tedious, was actually very helpful and allowed me to grasp many concepts I was a bit `iffy’ on after lecture. Highly recommended."

Grannas appreciates that, after using SmartBook and ALEKS, students come to class more prepared than before and ask more in-depth questions during lecture. One student comments, "I usually completed the SmartBook before we learned about the material in lecture, so it was nice having background knowledge on what we were learning."

Since implementing SmartBook and ALEKS, Grannas was able to double the class time used for more active learning opportunities and to address potential issues her students were having with the material (Figure 2).

Percent of Class Time Spent Active Learning - Villanova University

Because ALEKS decreases the amount of time spent grading, Grannas has more time for lecture preparation which has improved her delivery style and has enhanced the effectiveness of the lecture (Figure 3). Using the feedback available through her SmartBook and ALEKS reports, Grannas was able to spend more time effectively preparing for lecture due to the increased information available including detailed reports of how students are progressing through topics and where the trouble spots are. Grannas says, "SmartBook and ALEKS has allowed for more targeted lecturing and also the ability to 'skim' things that I see students are 'getting' already. Lectures are more tailored now to the actual students I have!"

Instructor Hours Per Week for Lecture Preparation chart - Villanova University

"While each platform on its own has many merits, savvy use of more than one can really augment a course (e.g. SmartBook with ALEKS). McGraw-Hill separates itself from other online technology providers in its approach of finding solutions to existing problems ... not merely developing new technology or new bells and whistles that in the end are just repackaged 'online homework."


Dr. Grannas’ implementation of SmartBook and ALEKS achieved her goal of her students strengthening their understanding of the concepts, retaining the material longer, and mastering the subject matter. SmartBook and ALEKS helped students stick with the assignments and improved the percentage of students passing with A’s and B’s. In regards to instructor outcomes, Grannas was able to double the class time used for more active learning opportunities and improve her delivery style while enhancing the effectiveness of the lecture.