Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Supplemental Learning Information for Faculty

 What is Supplemental Learning (SL)?

Supplemental Learning is a program to support students in becoming successful and independent learners. SL is attached to courses to provide discipline-specific approaches to studying, applying, and reviewing the course content.

SL leaders are students who have demonstrated proficiency in their target course, and have undergone SL leadership training. The SL leader attends course lectures to keep up with the content being presented and to model the habits of a good student. The SL leader conducts 2 to 3 sessions a week at times scheduled to be accessible to as many students as possible. During sessions, the leader uses interactive learning strategies which encourages involvement, application, and synthesis of course content. Leaders also incorporate effective study strategies and share advanced organizers.

The objective of SL is to help students become more effective and independent learners.

Broader program goals are to:

  • Increase the As, Bs, and Cs within targeted historically difficult classes
  • Reduce the Ds, Fs, and Ws within targeted historically difficult classes
  • Ultimately improve the retention and graduation rates within the discipline

To accomplish this, SL helps students to:

  • Understand and plan for the demand of university-level courses
  • Gain problem-solving experience through trial and error
  • Become actively involved in the course
  • Develop more effective study skills
  • Understand what to learn and how to learn
  • Develop transferable study strategies

While it is important to know exactly what SL is, it is equally important to understand that SL is not a remedial program for three important reasons:

  1. SL supports high-risk courses rather than high-risk students
  2. All students enrolled in the targeted class are encouraged to attend sessions - not just those struggling
  3. SL starts in the early weeks of classes and continues to the end of the term, to foster good habits and an established study time
 Why was my course selected for SL?

SL targets historically difficult courses, or courses which students typically find challenging. SL is attached to a course based upon what is being taught; and not upon the manner or style of teaching.

Historically difficult courses are typically those in which 30% or more of students receive D's, F's, or W's over successive semesters. In addition, SL targets "gatekeeper" courses - those which students must pass in order to pursue a particular major. Many such courses are the large introductory courses and serve a high number of first year students who typically have not adapted to the challenges of university study. In general, a course is considered high-risk when there is a gap between the demands of mastering the content of a course and the skills for learning that students bring to the course.

 How do I find out about having SL support for a course or section I teach?

SL targets introductory courses which students typically find challenging. Other considerations include the size of sections, and nature of the content and whether SL approaches would match. If you are interested in exploring the possibility of having SL support for a particular course, contact the SL Coordinator at anytime.

 What will I be expected to do?

SL is not intended to create additional work for faculty: In fact, it’s intentionally designed not to do so. However, your endorsement of SL is critical to the students’ acceptance of its usefulness. You support SL by granting time for occasional in-class announcements and by encouraging students to take advantage of SL, among other resources.

Some general expectations are that you:

  • Allow five minutes during the first or second lecture for the leader to introduce SL to the class
  • Regularly remind students about SL, or allow the leader to do so (by posting a note on the board, or make short announcements now and then
  • Avoid the implication that SL is for weak students
  • Do not call on leaders to answer content questions during class. Their focus is often on session planning and they may not be prepared to respond; also, they may resist being perceived as experts (aiming for a near-peer relationship)
  • Loan (or help secure) a copy of course materials your leader doesn’t already have
  • Vet mock exams if you leader uses these for exam review sessions

Leaders are trained to be independent in their session planning and to design their own review activities. However, your leader may request a copy of the text to borrow, or some other resource which could be useful for session planning. You may wish to include a statement that this section is supported by SL (and a link to this site) with your course materials. It’s also a great help for your leader to have access to Blackboard, WebCT, or Moodle if you use them. Allowing them to post session or exam review details can be incredibly useful in communicating with students, especially in bigger or multiple sections.

The SL Coordinator will contact you after each semester, to share a report on the SL results for your course, and to request your recommendations of strong students who might become future leaders for the course. You will not be asked to provide grades or any student information. This information is accessed through IPA and the Registrar’s Office. Please note that the collection and analysis of any data pertaining to your course and students has full approval within the institution, and will be handled to insure the students’ rights to privacy.

 What should I expect from the SL Leader?

The SL leader will typically attend all lectures and seminars for one section of the course supported; maintain a professional attitude about matters such as class standards, grades, and student complaints; discourage students from attending SL as a substitute for class; and share SL materials with faculty and provide feedback to faculty – at your request.

Also, as mentioned above, leaders who are creating mock exams for their special review sessions will require your prior approval for these. They have been advised to provide you with sufficient lead time for this.

Leaders have been trained to behave as student peer--not authority figure--so they may seem reluctant to answer questions, or to help in ways that distinguish them too much from the students. For this reason please do not request that your leader facilitate regular classroom activities (especially in your absence). If in doubt about the appropriateness of any unusual request, ask the SL Coordinator; the leader may be unsure--and uncomfortable saying no.

If you ever have concerns or questions about a leader’s conduct or approach, please do contact the SL Coordinator.

 Could I attend or observe an SL session?

Unfortunately, when faculty attend SL sessions, the dynamics of the group generally change. Students tend to be drawn to the prof. for information and answers; they stop deliberating among themselves and searching through their notes and texts for answers. The presence of faculty seems to inhibit students from revealing weaknesses and risking attempts to solve problems. Another effect is to undermine the casual leadership role a good leader seeks to maintain within the group.

If you are really keen to see a session, it’s best to arrange with the SL Coordinator to observe a session from a different class. Another tact is to ask your leader to describe the session dynamics and to show you some typical activities s/he’s developed for sessions.

 What should I expect from the SL Program?

You should expect the SL Coordinator to consult with you in recruiting candidates for SL leadership, and occasionally to seek your feedback about aspects of the program.

The SL Coordinator is responsible for, among other things:

  • recruiting, selecting, and training SL leaders according to established guidelines and standards
  • monitoring the activities of SL leaders (by occasionally attending class with them, helping them to plan sessions, and observing their sessions regularly)
  • supporting them (with supplies, training, in-service sessions, and consultation)
  • providing SL faculty with periodic updates, and an end-of-term comparative analysis of student performance (SL vs. non-SL) for your course.
  • evaluating the effectiveness of SL regularly, in a number of ways.

Finally, you should expect positive results from SL! Course faculty report that SL participants are better able to identify areas of difficulty, to venture answers to questions asked in class, and to pose specific questions on the material. SL faculty have observed improved levels of engagement in class discussion as participation in SL increased.

 Isn’t it just the motivated students who attend SL?

SL is assessed on a regular basis, with an established set of assessment tools. There is a record of strong results, from number of students supported, to contact hours accrued, to higher marks averaged by SL participants. Furthermore, in part to be able to do an more in-depth analysis of participants, two major studies were conducted by IPA (in 2009/2010) - including three years of data and over 3000 TRU students.

The results determined that students with cum. GPAs in the B and C range account for the greatest proportion of participants and contact hours (76% and 77% respectively). A smaller number of students in the D-F range also participate; as do students in the A range. Aboriginal and international students also appear to participate at very close to the same rate as any other student. One strength of SL is in that mix of ability, background knowledge, and expectation students bring. Moreover, all students appeared to benefit, in terms of positive correlations with higher target course GPA. Students at a C level (cum. GPA) and those attending more frequently were among those appearing to benefit the most. (Hamilton, K., Templeman, E., Supplemental Learning at TRU: Exploring the relationship between the Supplemental Learning program and student success. TRU 2009)

If you’d like to see the results of either of study (or the SL Executive Summary Reports from any year), contact the SL Coordinator.

 How does SL differ from discussion groups or seminars led by faculty (or TAs)?
SL Leaders:
  • Are model students and peers
  • Have a primary goal to teach others how to study successfully within the discipline
  • Reply upon small group and pair work
  • Are learning-oriented: review content and apply concepts to practice problems
Faculty (and, in some cases, Teaching Assistants):
  • Are content specialists and have excelled in their fields
  • Have a primary goal to teach subject matter of discipline
  • Do not depend primarily upon active, participatory learning
  • Are teaching-oriented: present, explain, and elaborate upon content

Sections above have been adapted, with permission, from the "FAQs for Faculty" from University of Missouri-KC materials

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