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Sunday, May 9, 2021

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Improving Student Success

The Supplemental Instruction program is built around peer-led study sessions.
By SDSU News Team

“The students coming to SI not only learned the subject, but acquired study and time management skills that help them become better students.”

In an effort to improve academic success in courses that are critical for many undergraduate students, San Diego State University is piloting a new Supplemental Instruction (SI) program.

The program is built around peer-led study sessions. Students who performed well in a specific class are hired to serve as SI leaders. The sessions take an active learning approach to instruction, focusing on collaboration in an informal, facilitated study group environment.

The focus is on high-challenge courses that are critical to continuation and graduation rates. The SI program was first offered for Psychology 101, one of the more rigorous first-semester GE courses taken by freshmen. In the past, between 20 and 40 percent of students have had to retake Psychology 101, slowing down their academic progress.

“After implementing Supplemental Instruction, two-thirds of students who were in the D and F grade range on their first test were able to move out of that range,” said James Frazee, SDSU’s senior academic technology officer and director of Instructional Technology Services (ITS), which helps to oversee the program.

The idea originated from the Learning Analytics Working Group, formed as part of SDSU’s Strategic Plan, “Building on Excellence,” and charged with developing innovative approaches to promoting student success at the course and curricular level.

Last semester, the Supplemental Instruction program was expanded to include Chemistry 200/202 and Math 254.  In both courses, fewer than four percent of students who attended SI sessions failed the course, compared to more than 18 percent of those who did not attend SI sessions.

“In Chemistry 200/202, more than 200 students attended sessions in a three-day period, and more than 700 students visited sessions in the first four weeks of the fall semester,” Frazee said.

SDSU student Kylee House, who served as an SI leader said she saw benefits beyond the course material.

“The students coming to SI not only learned the subject, but acquired study and time management skills that help them become better students,” House said.

Not only do the sessions help student succeed, they also provide valuable feedback for faculty members teaching the courses.

"SI leaders provide important timely feedback to the instructor about where and how students are struggling, and this feedback helps the instructor make more informed improvements to the course design,” said Stephen Schellenberg, associate dean for the Division of Undergraduate Studies and co-chair of the Learning Analytics Working Group.

The SI sessions, which take place at regularly scheduled times and locations each week, are completely voluntary. Professors are not told which students attend.

The campus learning management system, Blackboard, identifies at-risk students by analyzing data and tracking students to help further refine the program.

The journal Technology, Knowledge and Learning will publish an article about SDSU’s successful use of learning analytics in the Supplemental Instruction program in the October 2017 special issue on big data.