Supplemental Instructors Promote Peer-to-Peer Learning

As the Supplemental Instruction program continues to enter new departments and gain visibility around campus, opportunities for student success are more present than ever at Western.

Western State Colorado University initially adopted the nationwide Supplemental Instruction (SI) program seven years ago to help increase freshman retention. Today, the program still serves its initial function and is also emerging as a primary tool for pushing students’ expectations in their courses further.

Dr. Deanna Martin at the University of Missouri-Kansas City first developed the SI program in 1973 to provide peer-support for students in historically difficult classes.

In the program, students who recently completed a notoriously difficult class and did exceptionally well are asked to consider becoming an SI. Responsibilities include sitting in on the class, developing lesson plans and leading extra classes, usually in the evening.

Despite common misconceptions, SI is not a tutoring service and SIs are not teaching assistants. The primary goal of the program is to foster peer-to-peer learning and develop positive study habits rather than merely providing correct answers.

Students who have recently taken the course and are now SIs often use their own struggles to appeal to peers.

“Sometimes students have a different way of thinking,” said Carley Clegg, junior and SI attendee. “They remember what it was like to learn the material and can incorporate that understanding into their sessions.”

Senior and SI mentor Scott Doyle began his experience with the program as a regular attendee of sessions and worked his way into a leadership position over the last two years. The mentorship position is designed to help other SI leaders improve the structure and style of their sessions.

When Doyle entered a teaching role his junior year, he found the experience to be a crucial reinforcement of principal concepts in his major, many of which he missed the first time through.

“There’s no better way to learn than to teach,” Doyle said.

For faculty SI coordinator Heidi Keck, the program is far more than just a study tool. As the program continues to grow and expand into areas beyond math and science, she sees it as a way to raise academic standards. Courses with SIs are usually tough, and knowing that ahead of time is crucial.

SI leaders are not only an added resource for students; they are also an example of what it takes to be successful in their classes. When students who have put exceptional effort into their coursework take leadership positions, their example challenges everyone around them to dedicate more of their time toward academics.

“It creates a culture of expectation … it raises the bar for [how much studying] is normal,” said Keck. 

Most enthusiastically , Keck sees the program as a way to bring a positive and active energy to campus.

“There are sessions all over the place … buildings are now buzzing at night,” she said with a smile.

Story and Photos by Peter Noon

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Friday, November 11, 2016 - 12:45pm