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January 2002 Issue

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Supplemental Instruction (SI)

Faculty Support and the SI Program

By Barbara Stout, former SI supervisor, University of Pittsburgh. and Jeanne Wiatr, SI Program, University of Memphis

Email: bstout06@home.com and jeannewiatr@yahoo.com

SI PictureAn essential part of any SI program is establishing and maintaining a good relationship with cooperating faculty. Faculty plays a key role in the maintenance and growth of any university program, but their support is a key to the growth and survival of SI. When influential faculty demand SI support, administrators are unlikely to cut the program.

The Learning Skills Center at the University of Pittsburgh was already well established as a resource for student academic support but the SI Program (part of the LSC) had to earn its credibility. In the pilot semester, a key Biology professor was approached with the possibility of using SI in his class. Obviously the first placements are key to getting SI off the ground. Faculty must understand the concept of Supplemental Instruction. An article that may help in discussing SI with faculty was published in Research and Teaching in Developmental Education (Vol. 18, Issue 1, Fall 2001, Congos and Stout). The article was titled 20 FAQ’s from Faculty about Supplemental Instruction and attempted to answer questions that faculty new to SI may have regarding the program. 

The key points that we feel are essential to maintaining a good relationship with faculty include: meeting with the faculty before placement, provision of a well-trained leader and meeting during the semester with faculty to assess continuing good will.  Care must also be taken to place leaders with faculty who want SI as part of their course and not to respond to well intended identification of faculty who “need SI” in their course. Critical to continued success is providing faculty with general feedback about the session. 

Before an SI placement is made with an interested professor a clear understanding of the program, definition of the roles of key people and a working outline of what SI can and cannot do within the course is formed. If the professor agrees, the coordinator would have the intended leader contact the faculty member to set up a meeting. At our University we always gave the faculty the option of nixing the arranged student leader. (We felt that good chemistry between the faculty and leader was critical not optional.) If both agreed to work together, the match was made. Once the program was established with a professor the approval of a leader usually went swiftly, and the faculty often included the SI leader’s name and E-mail in their syllabus.

As SI coordinators we also met informally at least once during the semester with the faculty to see how everything was working. This was critical, as most professors will not call to complain if they think the leader is doing something wrong; they will merely discontinue use of the program and potentially complain to others. Small incidents can be cleared up quickly by hearing out the complaint in person and correcting misperceptions at that point or addressing it with the leader in a later meeting.

Making assumptions about who needs SI and then getting involved with uncooperative faculty often go hand-in-hand. In these cases it may be a department head that tells the SI coordinator Professor X needs an SI leader, along with the wink and nod that the identified faculty are not too skilled in instruction. Placing a SI leader with an uncooperative professor is a recipe for disaster. The professor will not verbally support SI in class or may indicate that SI is for the remedial students; subsequently no one will attend the sessions.   Once professors are familiar with the program they will begin to ask for SI support. There are professors who would like the support every semester or some that know it is helpful in a particular class. For example, a professor may know that the spring Organic Chemistry class will contain many students that failed the class in the fall and that professor may anticipate additional need for support. Professors also determine need in classes through the feedback they receive about the previous term.

Faculty will often welcome feedback about the SI sessions and usually indicate this to the leader. The leaders are taught not to divulge names but can provide feedback on what concepts were difficult for the students. This in turn might effect how the professor decides to introduce material or suggestions they might make to SI leaders about reviews to do early in the semester. The feedback is also helpful for the SI sessions. If the professor finds out one of the three sessions is lightly attended they may announce that fact thus suggesting to students, “if you need more individual attention, this is the session to attend”.  Term end feedback is very useful as the cooperating faculty prepare for the next term.  When they see results that benefit their students they feel good about using SI support and are eager to sustain the relationship.  Remember, a professor who wants SI support for their course may be the best source of leader recruits for the future.

In summary, it only makes good sense to maintain and nurture faculty relationships. For more information on what other programs are doing in this area check out the UMKC web site at http://www.umkc.edu/cad/SI

Next month will be our final SI article and will look at measuring the success of your SI program.


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