Supplemental Instruction program gaining popularity

Ethan Subra

The attendance of the Supplemental Instruction program improved significantly in the past few years — much like the grades of those who participate in it.

Supplemental Instruction is an internationally recognized academic support program offering free, regularly scheduled study sessions for traditionally difficult courses.

Three to five 50-minute sessions using group learning methods are held each week. These sessions are facilitated by SI leaders, who are undergraduate students who have previously taken the course and shown academic competency in the course.

Since 1992, SI has been helping ISU students to improve their grades in this informal environment at no cost to students. SI began at Iowa State to offer students help with the more difficult introductory courses, but has since grown to include more advanced classes.

SI is different than tutoring. Tutoring is an option for individuals who are seeking consistent, individualized help. However, tutoring depends on the student’s schedule and costs money.

With SI, a student can attend a session that fits his or her schedule.

“If a you are sitting in class and have no idea what is going on, you can look up when the next SI session is going on for your class and attend it,” SI program director Craig Zywicki said. “You don’t have to worry about having enough money or setting up a time. SI sessions are all pre-planned and on a schedule that makes them available to students with all types of schedules.”

On average there are 13 students per SI session. If there are enough students at the session, they are usually broken up and work in pairs or groups.

“You tend to retain more information working in a group instead of working on your own,” Zywicki said.

SI leader Molly Sinclair, junior in finance, said sessions are not a re-lecture of the material, but rather a mini review of the lesson. Specifically, Sinclair prepares a short quiz to show students what they need to work on.

“[Students] need to come with a notebook, notes from class and be ready to participate,” Sinclair said.

SI Leader Yunnie Low leads SI sessions for MATH 150 — an online class. She said in the typical session, she starts by going through what the week’s homework is and then she will walk the students through whatever problems they need help on.

“I advise people to come in the beginning so they have a good foundation,” Low said. “Be ready to learn and to contribute. There are a lot of questions and interactions between students. It’s easy to learn when you contribute. There is a lot of students teaching students.”

Since 1992, SI has grown to include 21 different courses during the fall semester and 23 during the spring. These range from mathematics to economics to chemistry.

SI reached almost 7,000 ISU students in the 2008-09 school year — a 1,500 person growth from the 2007-08 school year. More than 80 percent of SI participants achieved a final grade of C or higher. Only 63.2 percent of non-participants — all other students — received the same grade. Also, non-participants were three times more likely to drop out of a course than SI participants. More than 90 percent of SI participants would recommend SI to a friend.

It is these statistics that earned Iowa State’s SI program the Outstanding Innovation Award at the 2010 SI Conference in New Orleans, La.

“The innovation was primarily with the website,” Zywicki said.

Despite a diminishing budget, contact hours have almost doubled from what they were two years ago, but at the same time, cost per contact hour has decreased.

“Iowa State University has shown itself to be an organization that carefully assesses what is working and what is not, and adapts to maximize the impact to student learning using innovative strategies, to uniquely establish the Iowa State University SI program among other outstanding programs,” according to the National SI Center website.