The Supplemental Instruction (SI) program started from a suggestion made in 1988 by Veloris Lang, who was then chair of the English division. At the time we were trying to put together an application for a Title III grant from the Department of Education and we had asked for faculty ideas. Veloris told us that one of her friends had been part of a collaborative learning group when she was at the university and that she would never have made it without it. That seemed like a good idea so we decided to research it and see how we could formulate it and include it in the application.
Soon we found out about the Supplemental Instruction program developed at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). There they had collaborative learning sessions scheduled outside of class times and led by specially trained tutors. The sessions focused mostly on group discussions and concept reviews, and the tutors were asked to attend the classes with the workshop participants.
We also heard about another program, this one developed at Berkeley by a math teacher who tried to understand why his Black students did not succeed as well as his Asian students even though both groups had similar backgrounds, academic and otherwise. The main difference that he found was that his Asians students studied in groups, so when they had difficulties they had a whole network of friends to call to the rescue, while his Blacks students worked individually and in case of trouble had nowhere to go. So he organized group problem solving sessions for his Black students and soon they were succeeding as well as the others.
We decided to adopt the two formats and put them both under the SI name in the application. We did get the grant; it was for five years starting in 1989, and it funded SI tutors and an SI coordinator. So we started with our first sessions in five different classes in the spring of 1990.
The program got an exceptional boost from Peter Stathis whose math class was one of the original five. When we gave a report on the grant at a faculty meeting at the end of the first year Peter was full of praise for the program and thought it was the best way he had ever seen to help his students. The reactions of the other teachers were also positive, so we were on a roll and never looked back. The program now reaches thousands of students each semester through about 110 to 150 sessions each week and with the help of over 80 tutors. More than 50 teachers are involved and offer workshops in over 100 different classes.
The approach that we use is flexible. For math and science classes we recommend the “Berkeley model.” We encourage the teachers to get involved, to prepare the workshop material, and to attend the workshops, if only part of the time. In other areas we recommend the “Missouri model,” but we make it clear to faculty that they are welcomed to use any model they want and adapt them to their needs.
We ask our tutors to attend a one-afternoon training session at the beginning of each semester, and we evaluate their work through student questionnaires halfway through the semester. By and large the tutors are competent and dedicated. They are former “A” students of the classes in which they lead workshops, and most of them do the work for the educational experience. The stipend we give them is indeed minimal but the experience is significant and constitutes both an honor and an interesting challenge that attracts some of our best students.
After a false start with the SI coordinator, we hired Jan Freemeyer for the job in 1991. She had been trained in SI at UMKC and got the program well organized. When the grant ran out, Jan moved on to other positions at the college, although she still does the training for the SI leaders twice a year, and we appointed Ann Reed as coordinator. Ann had been the grant secretary and had done much of the clerical work associated with the SI program. She was a wonderful coordinator and the scholarship fund that we have established to reward some of our best SI leaders bears her name. Ann retired in 2006 and Nancy Yaldizian has been the coordinator and has kept the program going and growing ever since.
When we started the program, one of our problems was to find rooms for our SI sessions. Fortunately there were a number of classrooms that had open hours so we were able to use those as we still do to this day. But we were also able to get three dedicated SI rooms all carved out of the Physics facilities, two from its stockroom and one from its lab, with the gracious help of Rick Guglielmino. When that building was remodeled and the CS building built, those rooms were eliminated but the committee that planned the transformations made sure that they were replaced. That’s why today there are four SI rooms all on the first floor of the CR and CS buildings and they are well used.
After the Title III grant ran out the college took over the funding of the SI coordinator and tutors. But we soon got help from other grants. First we immediately got in on a large NSF grant, the Alliance for Minority Participation, as partners with Cal State Northridge. This grant paired a community college with a California state university to try to bring more minority students in the STEM fields. CSUN chose us in large part because of our SI program and provided tutor funding for nearly ten years. After that we got help from a variety of grants, in particular Sid Kolpas’ MASTER grant: they all helped pay for the tutor costs.
We evaluated the program extensively in 1995 and found that it helped students in every class where it had been tried: participants averaged success rates in the 75 to 90% range, while non-participants were in the 40 to 50%, and the GPA difference between the two groups was almost one full point. Approximately half of these differences were due to self-selection, but the rest was due to the program itself. We have not monitored the program as well in recent years, but informal comments from the teachers involved tell us that it is still very successful. In fact many of these teachers would no longer teach without it. In addition extensive monitoring by UMKC over hundreds of thousands of students shows results similar to ours.
In short this is a wonderful success story that the college is justifiably proud of. We are given as an example to other colleges and we keep receiving inquiries about the program from colleges in the United States and Canada. The program has made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of our students over the years and some of them have even told us that they come to GCC rather than nearer colleges because we offer SI. So let’s hope it keeps going and growing for years to come.