On the Clock: Student tutors, supplemental instruction leaders facilitate learning

<p>Different studying materials lay on the grass Oct. 14, 2020, in Noblesville, Indiana. Tutors and Supplemental Instruction Leaders at the Learning Center offer tutoring and study sessions for students looking for help with &quot;historically difficult&quot; classes. <strong>Jacob Musselman, DN Illustration</strong></p>

Different studying materials lay on the grass Oct. 14, 2020, in Noblesville, Indiana. Tutors and Supplemental Instruction Leaders at the Learning Center offer tutoring and study sessions for students looking for help with "historically difficult" classes. Jacob Musselman, DN Illustration

Ashlyn Marcum, senior nursing major, said one of her favorite memories from tutoring involved a “Jeopardy!” game she created to help her students prepare for their first exam. 

“When I first started the session, everybody was dead quiet, not really wanting to participate,” Marcum said. “It got super competitive at the end super quickly … It was a really, really funny moment. After the exam, I got a lot of really good feedback. It was really good for me, especially because it was my first semester doing this.” 

Marcum is one of 130 student tutors and supplemental instruction (SI) leaders who assist students in various subjects at the Learning Center. SI leaders design activities and handouts for a core curriculum class they’ve already taken, and they offer study sessions for these classes.

“Obviously, I'm not a professor, I'm not an instructor and I'm still learning as a nursing student myself,” Marcum said. “[SI leaders are] there to help the students along throughout the course. We were kind of course experts back when we took it.”

Rachel Vogelsang, sophomore business analytics and marketing major, and Kelly Lage, senior marketing major, are co-supplemental instructor leaders for MATH 132. Together, they plan their lessons using course material from professors. Vogelsang holds office hours for students who have questions about homework, so she is able to walk through problems with them.

When Lage hosts office hours and study sessions, she said, she tries to be open and friendly because she never wants anyone she’s tutoring to feel intimidated by her. 

“I'm a student just like them, so I want them to feel comfortable coming to me and talking to me,” Lage said. “Sometimes, I feel like students could be embarrassed. They don't want to go to their professor if they're not understanding a concept they think is simple. Sometimes, it might be easier for them to come to an SI leader or a tutor where they feel like it's a student, [so] they've been here, they've done that.” 

Ella Boardley, pre-medicine and biology major, said as she tutors students in organic chemistry, she doesn’t like to lecture her students. Instead, her tutoring style consists of asking her students questions and encouraging them to work together.

“It's a very active learning and more like Socratic tutoring,” Boardley said. “I want them to feel more confident in their abilities in organic chemistry. The best way to do that is just have them practice and learn through doing problems.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all study and tutoring sessions are held online through Zoom or WebEx. Due to the online format, senior microbiology major Emily Catania said one of her biggest challenges as an SI leader is how her resources to help students are now limited. 

“With SI sessions, I'm only allowed one in-person session a week, and it was pretty difficult to adjust,” Catania said. “When I do have my in-person sessions, I'm used to writing on a whiteboard [and] drawing out diagrams, but with your computer, you can't do a lot of things that you're used to doing. You can't do board work with students because you just don't have that available to you.” 

Lage said she believes holding study and tutoring sessions online has opened the door for students who cannot come to campus to get the help they need with their classes. 

“Now, [students] can just log on their computer,” Lage said. “I think the Learning Center will probably consider doing more Zoom-style tutoring or SI from now on just because it's really awesome for distance learners and people who might not have the chance to come back to campus.” 

SI leaders and tutors receive training once a semester on “Super Sunday” during which they run through simulated SI sessions and activities for the course they are tutoring. Tutors and SI leaders also have bi-weekly meetings to discuss the different activities and practices they’ve implemented in their sessions to reflect on how they’ve worked.

Emily Schmidt, senior biology major, said these meetings are in a collaborative environment where she and other SI leaders work together to figure out what activities will best suit their students. Schmidt said she began working as an SI leader because she loves sharing her knowledge and seeing that moment where students’ understandings “click.” 

“I have always loved science — I've always been kind of one of those big science nerds who loves watching all of the dorky movies and [doing] trivia where we talk about different cells and molecules,” Schmidt said. “I think students are capable of a lot more than they give themselves credit for. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of a guiding hand to get them to that point. I really, really would love to be able to help them do that and potentially spark a joy in them that I found in myself.” 

Ethan Hetrick, senior biology major, said when he tutors students in Spanish, chemistry, biology, physics and sociology, he enjoys picking apart people’s ways of thinking to better help them understand a topic. 

“I love when there's a good challenge where I find a student that thinks more outside the box, and as I’m trying to instruct them on how to work out a specific problem contrary to the way I learned it, it's like a nice puzzle trying to figure out a way to get it to click,” Hetrick said. “When I see that click in them [understanding what] they really struggled on in class, and it's like that lightbulb moment — I just love having that happen … It's just very rewarding to me to help people on that level.” 

As Marcum continues to gain experience tutoring nursing students to push herself out of her comfort zone, she said she enjoys being students’ support system, which she didn’t always have as a freshman nursing student. 

“It kind of feels like you don’t have a lot of impact, but then you get the feedback from your students,” Marcum said. “We just had our first exam for the SI course that I've been teaching. I asked for some feedback [on] what the students liked and what they didn't like, and they were all like, ‘You are super helpful,’ and ‘You are my savior.’ It was really nice to get that feedback. I do feel like [I’m] making a really good impact and helping facilitate learning within the course.” 

Contact Kristine Strosser with comments at kristine.271315@nv.ccsd.net or on Twitter @kestrosser.

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