Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College: Empowering Student Learning with Supplemental Instruction

Warren Yarbrough
Member Spotlight

As is the case at other community colleges around the United States, successful course completion, particularly in select gatekeeper courses and all developmental studies classes, has historically been an issue at Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College (OCtech). However, over the course of the past three academic years, the college has had proven success with course completion in both developmental studies and credit-bearing gatekeeper courses through the use of supplemental instruction. 

In conjunction with its involvement in the Achieving the Dream initiative, the college held a series of town-hall meetings in 2008. The first tier meetings were intended to isolate weak areas in the college. The second were designed to develop solutions to these issues and concerns. The need for a peer-led tutorial system grew from these meetings. After a review of best-practices, OCtech chose Supplemental Instruction (SI) as the means for implementing a tutorial program. 

SI is an academic assistance program that uses peer-assisted study sessions led by students who have done well in the course and who attend all class lectures, take notes, and act as model students. The following three features of SI formed the basis of OCtech's choice:

1.    SI increases retention within targeted historically difficult courses.
2.    SI improves student grades in targeted historically difficult courses.
3.    SI increases the retention rates of students in targeted historically difficult courses.

The college piloted SI in an introductory chemistry section during the 2008-2009 academic year. Initial data showed a strong impact of SI. In following semesters, the intervention was expanded throughout isolated gatekeeper and developmental studies courses. During OCtech's SI implementation process, the college has seen continued promise from this intervention. Indeed, based on this information, the college expanded the use of SI tutors to courses other than the developmental and gatekeeper courses delineated in the original proposal. Furthermore, OCtech designated lab space for SI tutoring, as well as provided an actual office for the SI tutors. 

Results clearly indicate that students who routinely attend SI sessions score at least a grade level higher in course assessments. The college has increased success rates for developmental and gateway courses in which students are receiving SI from 53% in 2007-2008 to 59% in 2010-2011, and has expanded the reach of SI to 20% of OCtech students.

The intervention has worked, according to the college, because SI helps struggling students develop needed confidence in mastering course content and helps them to improve the study habits needed to meet course objectives. In short, SI helps the students learn how to learn. They study smarter, not harder.

Contact: Katie Haigler, Biology/Chemistry Instructor and Supplemental Instruction Coordinator

Warren Yarbrough is Dean of the Online/Flex College at Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College.