Frequently asked questions about SI

Who trains the SI leaders and who runs the SI program?

The Director of the Academic Resource Center directs and administers the USU SI Program. The director recruits, trains, and supervises SI coordinators, SI leaders, and SI program assistant; meets weekly with and trains SI coordinators to observe and coach SI leaders; prepares and delivers the mandatory weekly training for SI leaders and coordinators; prepares program materials; designs and supervises production of outcome reports and program analyses; prepares funding proposals; and is the liaison between the SI program and campus community.

What are the qualifications to become an SI leader?

SI leaders are students who have taken and successfully completed the targeted course. In general, "successfully completed" means achieving an A or A- in the course with an overall GPA of 3.3 or higher. However, when choosing a leader, the director also looks at educational background, interpersonal skills, academic references, receptivity to learning active teaching methods, capacity for accepting feedback and training, and compatibility with the SI model. The course professor meets with the selected candidate before a hiring decision is finalized.

What is the theory behind this program?

Educational theorists such as Dewey, Piaget, and Bruner advocate learning in peer groups (collaborative learning). SI brings students together to collaborate to study and learn common subject matter. Under the leadership of peer SI leaders, students exchange information from lecture notes, build possible exam questions and answers, build problems and solutions, and exchange information on ways to understand, learn, and remember the subject matter. Many of these SI activities are consistent with Piaget�s concept of constructivism wherein students must construct their own knowledge and use it to gain an understanding of material to be learned.

Educational research of Dimon and Keimig finds that it is difficult to teach transferable study skills apart from content. Therefore, SI effectiveness comes from applying how to learn course content directly to the content in historically difficult courses. The SI model was developed by Dr. Deanna Martin at the University of Missouri at Kansas City in the early 1980�s and focuses on refining the skills for learning as applied to specific course content. Study strategies are integrated into course content in SI sessions. Students are, therefore, able to master course content while developing, refining, and integrating effective study skills.

Why should I consent to having SI with my class?

SI should be offered as an additional benefit to the students, not solely to increase test scores, but as a model of effective learning and appropriate college study behaviors. Through SI sessions, students are exposed to effective college level study habits. SI students learn to discuss the course material to increase and to check understanding. They have opportunities to mentally manipulate information to understand ideas, concepts, and problem solving techniques rather than just memorizing facts. SI also offers an enrichment experience for SI leaders. It allows them to improve their course knowledg, estudy skills, and leadership skills that will benefit them in future courses and in their future professions. Finally, SI leaders provide an important communication link between the instructor and students.

Isn't it just the motivated students who attend SI?

At UMKC, incoming variables have been repeatedly examined and compared in the research between SI and non-SI attendees. When incoming high school grade point averages are examined, there is no consistent difference between the two groups. The same is true of high school class rank and size. If SAT and ACT scores are any indication of industriousness and motivation, SI attendees� scores are consistently the same or statistically significantly lower than the non-SI attendees. In this light, it does not appear that only the most motivated or most academically prepared students are the ones who attend SI sessions. In addition, one could expect that students with lower incoming SAT and ACT scores would earn lower grades. The opposite has been true on a consistent basis since research on SI began at UMKC in 1973. SI attendees typically earn the same or statistically significantly higher on final course grades in spite of the same or lower incoming SAT or ACT scores.

In 2003-04, Dr. Tyler Bowles, professor of Economics at Utah State University, published research results from the USU SI program that identifed students with below average academic ability are more likely to attend SI. (Bowles, T. and Jones, J. "An Analysis of the Effectiveness of Supplemental Instruction: The Problem of Selection Bias and Limited Dependent Variables". Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2003-04.)

Can I choose my own SI leader?

Since SI is an integral part of a class, the director requests that the faculty member meet with and approve of the applicant before he/she is hired as an SI leader. Faculty are asked to recommend students who have done well in their classes and who meet basic qualifications. Since the SI program director has been trained in the elements that make for a successful SI program, it is this person�s responsibility to set the criteria for qualifications, recruitment, screening, interviewing, hiring, and training SI leaders. SI leaders are screened for content competence, effective and efficient study skills, and the potential and receptiveness to refine skills to properly lead SI sessions.

Why shouldn't I know who is attending SI?

Many institutions require an SI program to prove, using inferential statistical methods, that SI participants exhibit benefits from the program over non-participants. To prevent the appearance of bias in grading and jeopardize the validity of research, instructors are asked not to track who attends SI sessions during the semester. Technically, since SI is part of a class, instructors certainly have the right to know what happens in SI sessions. Unfortunately, when instructors attend SI sessions a result is that the data used for researching the impact of SI on students is potentially compromised. This is so because data are considered biased when instructors in charge of grading know who is attending SI sessions. In other words, who is to say that instructors do or do not favor SI attendees when grading.

At Utah State University, the SI director encourages course instructors to talk regularly with their SI leaders to stay informed on what is happening in the SI sessions. If the instructor wants to attend an SI session to have a more informed sense of how sessions are conducted, he/she can arrrange that with their SI leader. However, students may not participate as comfortably in the SI session with their professor present.

Can I give the SI students extra credit?

Yes. There is a successful strategy for increasing SI attendance that does allow an instructor to know who attends SI sessions. In many cases, attendance at SI sessions and differences in final grades increase when extra credit is given for SI attendance. In order to give extra credit, instructors must know who attends. To reduce accusations of tainted data, instructors should agree to compute final course averages before receiving a list of SI attendees for extra credit. Instructors should create alternative means for earning an equal amount of extra credit for students whose schedules preclude attendance at any SI sessions. This prevents a self-fulfilling prophesy of SI participants earning higher final course score averages because of the extra credit.

Won't SI sessions compete with my review (help) sessions?

Not at all. Because SI focuses on how to learn the course content and review sessions typically focus on reviewing course content, there is no competition between the two forms of assistance.

Portions reprinted with permission from the National Center for Supplemental Instruction, Kansas City, Missouri; modifications and additions reflect specifics of the Utah State University program.