This Complete Research Paper examines the effectiveness of the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program implemented at our university in first year engineering courses from its inception in 2015 through 2018. As student retention and four-year graduation rates are of institutional and national interest and frequently referred metrics for college success, the historically successful and well-studied Supplemental Instruction (SI) program was introduced in 2015 through a collaboration between the School of Engineering and the campus Learning Center. The supported courses included, Introduction to Electrical Engineering, and Introduction to Computing. These are required courses for the Electrical and Computer engineering students at the university, and report high percentages of D’s, F’s, Q’s (drops), and W’s (withdraws). In the fall of 2016 this program was expanded to the Network Analyses course in the Biomedical Engineering department at the university.
To improve academic success, the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program provides optional, non-remedial sessions designed to deliver content review and additional practice opportunities while developing transferable skills to benefit the student in all coursework at the institution. The SI program is an academic support program created in 1973 at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, to improve grades in traditionally “difficult” classes, promote student retention and increase graduation rates. In the thirty years since its creation, it has become widespread and is considered an effective academic support model (Dawson et al., 2014). The program uses a peer-assisted learning model to review class material and develop transferable study skills. SI leaders, undergraduates who have completed the course successfully, are selected for interest in teaching and learning, offer two sessions per week that incorporates peer and collaborative learning strategies married with course material review.
This report provides a longitudinal view of the effects of SI, an examination of aspects of the program that are successful and areas for improvement, as well as provide evidence for expansion to other courses.The study utilizes a mixed-methods approach, incorporating quantitative data relating to grades and attendance with qualitative data relating to student perceptions about SI. Over the course of three years, the collaborators have collected multiple types of data, including students’ SI session attendance and academic performance in the current course, as well as subsequent courses and semesters, students’ demographic data, and the D’s, F’s, W’s and Q drop rates (QDFW rates) for attendees and non-attendees. Qualitative data was collected in the form of surveys administered to attendees from 2015-2018.
An analysis conducted for every semester starting in 2015 showed a minimum of 15 percent decrease in QDFW rates for SI attendees (students who attended 2 or more sessions) vs. non-SI attendees (students who attended 0 or 1 session). In spring semesters, the difference was even more pronounced, with SI attendees’ QDFW rates at minimum being less than half of that for non-SI attendees (see the Table 1 below). In 2017, the collaborators were able to compare students with similar SAT scores and found a more pronounced positive effect on end of semester course GPA for those students who had low SAT scores and attended SI regularly compared to those who did not attend. As the SI program’s effectiveness is assessed by aiming to reduce the QDFW rates in first year engineering courses and in turn retain more students to the ECE program, especially those students who are most at risk (first generation, women, non-dominant, etc.), we plan to provide an in-depth analysis of how the SI program affects these specific demographics, as well as compare students outcomes in the three year period using SAT scores for a more accurate reflection of the effects of SI.
Table 1: % DFQW for Introduction to Electrical Engineering
Non SI SI
Fall 2015 11.6% 9.3%
Spring 2016 44% 16%
Fall 2016 17.2% 4.7%
Spring 2017 25.7% 0%
Fall 2017 12.7% 9.35%
Spring 2018 27.9% 9.5%
Dawson, P.; van der Meer, J.; Skalicky, J.; Cowley, K. (2014). On the Effectiveness of Supplemental Instruction: A Systematic Review of Supplemental Instruction and Peer-Assisted Study Sessions Literature Between 2001 and 2010. Review of Educational Research. 84 (4): 609–639.
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