Most, if not all, institutions of higher learning have some kind of tutorial center where students can get help specifically in English, writing, and mathematics, but services may extend to cover science, technology, foreign language, law, or other difficult subject matter. Online institutions have tutors available also. These vast differences really bring to mind two key questions. How does the general student population use these services and as success coaches, how can we better motivate at-risk or academically high risk students to utilize the services that are already in existence on college campuses across the nation? I asked one of our graduate assistants in the Tiffin University Student Success Center for her thoughts on the subject.
The first thing that college students need to understand about tutorial centers is that there is nothing wrong with seeking additional help for concepts, assignments, or papers. The purpose of higher education is to challenge our thoughts and expectations, so it is realistic to assume that we will not always immediately understand the new ideas, theories, or models placed before us. Offering peer mentoring can alleviate the concern of feeling overwhelmed or unworthy because the perception is that peers will traditionally have more empathy than someone who has been out of college for some time. As success coaches, we know and understand that perceptions are not always reality and we have found that students appreciate help from numerous sources. The imagined stigma can often be minimized or eliminated by publicizing the services heavily on campus, all faculty encouraging students to frequent the tutorial center, and also by offering a wide variety of services that don’t always force students into a one-on-one situation.
Most students can feel defensive or self-conscious if they feel like they’ve been singled out. Offering group tutoring sessions in one subject can be an effective way to encourage communication between students while still featuring a peer mentor or tutor. Even group study sessions (like open study hours in one classroom) that are not focused in one subject can foster a sense of camaraderie if questions are encouraged by the tutor. The Tiffin University SSC hosted several sessions like these and received good feedback from the students in attendance, especially those who were required to complete so many hours of supervised study for sports, extracurricular activities, or due to academic probation.
It all boils down to a few different factors. How easy is it for students to make an appointment or get help with their questions? How convenient are the times or hours for sponsored study sessions? How effective are peer tutors when they haven’t completed their own degrees? If students feel inconvenienced at all in making an appointment, chances are that they will not take the time and effort to do so. Each tutorial center should offer several different methods for scheduling appointments, such as email, phone, or walk-in, but should also have a wide variety of hours throughout the entire day and include time on the weekends. Tutor training is vital in making sure that tutors are capable of answering any questions that are posed to them during tutoring sessions. Being familiar with the subject material is often not enough; tutors need to be able to break down the theories and ideas in several different ways to ensure that comprehension is maximized. Every student will learn in his or her own way, so it is important that the tutor can offer several different teaching styles.
Tutors should also be placed in positions to share knowledge about subjects that they are passionate about. A student is far more likely to learn from someone who is excited about, or enjoys talking about, say- forensic psychology, law, statistics, or research. Here at Tiffin University, we had seven of our graduating tutors receive an Excellence in Field of Study (which is awarded to the top candidate in each major of the graduating class). It is also important that tutors continue to train throughout their time at the tutorial center. Training sessions covering teamwork, teaching, or even specific software programs or issues should be offered at least once or twice a month in order to be most effective. Students who utilize the tutorial center should also be asked for feedback to see how and where improvements could be made.
As success coaches, we strongly encourage our students to make use of the services provided at our SSC. We have students call to set up appointments while they are meeting with us and we are able to follow up with a call to the center to see if the student showed up for the appointment, how the appointment went, and also get basic feedback about the student’s performance. We continually search for new and better strategies to encourage and entice students to use the many resources already in place on college campuses. Basically, we need to know how to get them there!
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.