Supplemental instruction program helps students succeed
Karen Zamora, far left, a course assistant for statistics, leads a session in TWU's Supplemental Instruction Program. Photo by Holly Nelson.
DENTON— A Texas Woman’s University program aimed at increasing success rates in classes that traditionally have been stumbling blocks for students has shown success of its own — including recognition from the state’s top higher education agency. The Supplemental Instruction and Tutoring (SIT) Program requires students in SIT-supported courses to attend at least four SIT sessions. In addition, students with grades below a C are required to attend SIT weekly. From the program’s beginning in 2012, students who attended the minimum number of SIT sessions have recorded higher overall grade point averages than students who did not. Results are available at www.twu.edu/SIT/results.
The program received the Recognition of Excellence from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board earlier this year when Don Edwards, professor and chair of the TWU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, and Bev Carlsen-Landy, TWU coordinator of policy development for civility and community standards and the primary architect and coordinator for the program, presented information at the board’s July meeting.
“It was an incredible honor,” Carlsen-Landy said. “The Coordinating Board commissioner stated the SIT Program is exactly what is needed at institutions across Texas to meet the goals of the 60x30TX strategic plan,” which calls for 60 percent of Texans between ages 25 and 34 to have earned a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030.
The SIT program was created through funding from a Comprehensive Student Success Program grant awarded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The board subsequently awarded additional grants in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
The program, which initially served approximately 220 students per semester in three STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses, served an average of 1,000 students in four STEM courses during the final year of the Coordinating Board grants. Now in its fourth year, SIT is funded by the department of mathematics and computer science. TWU officials are seeking funding to expand the program beyond the current college algebra and statistics courses.
Edwards served as principal investigator for the grants, and Carlsen-Landy was the primary architect and coordinator for the program. She currently serves as a volunteer adviser to the program.
“The program helps students earn higher grades and gain a deeper understanding of course materials and confidence in their ability to understand and explain the course content,” Edwards said.
Many students who have been helped by the program have returned as course assistants or course assistant mentors to help others who are struggling in the classes. Course assistants offer supplemental instruction sessions, tutoring and peer mentoring to students within their class. Course assistant mentors, who are selected from past and current course assistants, oversee the course assistants in a subject area.
India Robinson, a junior psychology major from Frisco, is a course assistant for both statistics and algebra and a course assistant mentor for statistics. She applied for the positions after taking a SIT-supported statistics class in spring 2014.
“Being a course assistant and course assistant mentor has changed my outlook on learning,” she said. “When you make learning a group effort, it works much better. I love my job and the people I work with. We all work together so that every student who wants it will get the most out of the program. I think we are doing a lot of good and helping the students in these courses.”
Betsi Good, a senior nutrition major from St. Louis, Missouri, went through a SIT-supported chemistry course when that subject was offered and said she gained a better understanding of chemistry. She currently serves as a course assistant mentor in college algebra and says the goal is to guide the struggling students to an understanding of the course materials.
“We always try to lead them to find the answer on their own,” she said. “We teach them to teach themselves.”
Not every course assistant or mentor came from the program. Some simply wanted to use their knowledge of the subjects to help others.
Karen Zamora, a sophomore nursing major from Dallas, is a course assistant in statistics.
“I love it when a student really understands the material for the first time,” she said. “I like the satisfaction of knowing that I helped them.”
Online sessions were added to the program last semester. These evening sessions are smaller and consist mostly of nontraditional and commuter students. The technology used in these sessions allows for video capabilities and communication through headsets or on a chatboard. While it’s more difficult to form the same kind of relationships as in face-to-face sessions, Robinson says it’s not impossible.
“People tend to become regulars for online sessions and they see you in class sometimes and ask for help then,” she said.
The TWU program was adapted from a model at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, home of the International Center for Supplemental Instruction. Carlsen-Landy and Edwards developed a “toolkit” for other universities to use in developing their own programs.
“We’ve received feedback about the toolkit from several institutions after presentations at the Student Success Summit in Austin and the Regional Supplemental Instruction Conference at TWU,” Edwards said. “There is a lot of interest in the toolkit and in creating a network of best practices for supplemental instruction across Texas.”
For more information on the Supplemental Instruction and Tutoring program at TWU, visit www.twu.edu/sit.