Peers turn teachers as HGTC, CCU experiment with ways to help students learn

sjones@thesunnews.comOctober 8, 2012 

— The three HGTC students sat in a small room with team leader Kate Mulrennan Monday afternoon talking about things such as syndesmosis, gomphosis, symphysis, doraflexion, plantarfelxion and lateral flexion.

The three are all students in Biology 210, which is a two-part course focused on anatomy and physiology. Two of the students are first semester nursing students and the third is in her second year of work on an associates degree in science.

Mulrennan took Bio 210 last semester and did well enough that her professor recommended her to be a leader in HGTC’s new supplemental instruction sessions.

Coastal Carolina University has a similar program called structured learning assistance.

The central factor behind each is that a student leader who has already excelled in a course then attends each class of the course again with new students and assists them in separate sessions to catch on to things that may not be as clear in a classroom full of people.

“It gives us a different way to look at everything,” said Amanda Clontz, one of the nursing students in the Monday afternoon session.

It’s the same material they got in class earlier in the day, but it is relayed to the three students in a way they can easily understand. At one point, they play a modified version of Simon Says to reinforce further what they’d talked about. Mulrennan said it’s kind of like the difference in a physician explaining a procedure to a patient and then a nurse explaining it so the patient understands.

While HGTC began its supplemental instruction sessions this year, CCU has been at it since 2007. CCU now has sessions for college algebra students, a course like Bio 210 in that it is a ground floor course for future learning.

The sessions are aimed at students who are making grades of D or F or are at a high rise of withdrawing altogether.

CCU is also offering structured learning assistance sessions to students in business calculus courses and, in the past, has used the process to help students with Japanese, Italian and Philosophy 101.

The latter, said Brianne Parker, CCU’s director of learning assistance, is geared to teach students to think critically, a skill they can use throughout their lives.

The idea, said Parker and Jennifer Ridei, director of student success at HGTC, is to keep students in school and help them to achieve their academic goals.

“It all boils down to retention and student success,” Ridei said.

Each school has other kinds of help students can get, including learning labs and one-on-one tutorial sessions.

But the advantage to supplemental instruction -- or structured learning assistance -- is that the session leaders have been to the same classes as their students and can help them with the specific things they heard that day.

“Usually, the professor doesn’t have the time that I do to go into the material,” Mulrennan said.

While HGTC has measured grades of attendees since the beginning, CCU will do its first grade assessment at the end of this semester. The university will compare grades of attendees versus those who don’t attend and will survey students to find out why they are attending or not.

“Our problem at this point is to get students to come often,” Parker said. “They want to come just before a test.”

HGTC sees similar attendance fluctuations, and tries to sell the program to students in their classes.

CCU has found some success in attracting more students by offering the sessions at hours that hadn’t been available before.

The supplemental instruction movement began in the 1970s at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. It now offers courses to certify supplemental instruction supervisors and licenses schools to use its materials.

UMKC now requires that students attend supplemental instruction classes for all their classes, Ridei said.

Both Ridei and Parker hope their programs will expand in the future. But at both schools, it seems to be a matter of finding the money to fund the expansion.

Both are confident that it will happen.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” Parker said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

Myrtle Beach Sun News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service