Help is here for students at the University of Mississippi who find their college courses more challenging than they anticipated. The College of Liberal Arts and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning have started an academic assistance program called Supplemental Instruction (SI), which is geared toward helping students in traditionally difficult courses. For the 2010-11 pilot of this program, the courses supported by SI were introductory classes in biology, chemistry and accounting.
During voluntary SI sessions, students gather in informal groups of five to eight to compare notes, solve problems, discuss readings, develop study skills and prepare for tests. Each session is led by an upper-class student who recently earned a high grade in the course. These SI leaders receive training in teaching/learning strategies, stay in regular contact with the course instructor, and attend the class lectures so they know how the material is presented in class. During the SI session, they facilitate discussion and problem solving, plan team-based learning activities, and allow students to formulate and answer their own questions.
“After a while, you create a bond with the students,” said Alexa Lampkin, an SI leader for a biology class. “These SI courses help them transition from high school studying to college studying.”
A survey of students at the end of the fall semester revealed positive feedback.
“I wish I had attended the SI sessions from the beginning,” one survey respondent stated. “I made an 80 on the exam 1 (thought it was a fluke), then I studied even harder to make a 70 on exam 2 (disgusting!). I started going to SI sessions and studied about the same and made a 96 on exam 3. I was focusing on the wrong things and the SI sessions helped me to focus on what I needed to.”
Another student said that “one of the best things about SI is the skills taught were applicable to my study habits with my friends. I would quiz them and help my peers find answers, just like in SI sessions.”
In addition to the anecdotal evidence, data from the pilot program is showing that SI participants are succeeding.
“Grades of A, B, and C were generally higher for SI participants than for non-participants during the 2010 fall semester,” said Nancy Wiggers, learning specialist and coordinator of the SI pilot
, “Preliminary data for the spring courses suggest that students who participated in SI sessions received at least five more points on examinations than those who did not participate. More importantly, students reported that SI sessions helped them develop better study habits and strategies in addition to higher test scores.”