Supplemental Instruction Can Help Students Succeed

Submitted on February 03, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Supplemental Instruction (SI) is basically a study group on steroids. It's focused student support, lead by a group leader with a proven track record in the subject, and designed to meet the individual needs of the students who participate.

The Vol State program is in its third semester and has expanded greatly, moving from just selected anatomy and physiology (A&P) sections to 15 course content areas, including chemistry, accounting, communication, history, and many others.

Preliminary study results from the first semester pilot, spring 2010, show solid results. Students who participated in SI had a 79 percent course completion rate, as compared to 43 percent for students who did not participate.

Those results could lead to the conclusion that the best students are seeking out SI. However, faculty members leading the study point out that a review of grade point averages shows that the study group students had a wide range of previous success in school. The results can be seen in the grades achieved in the A&P classes.

"We do seem to see about a letter grade increase for students in SI," said biology instructor, Dr. Phil Clifford.

"The logical thing is to attribute it to SI," said Clifford. "We've decided to study it another semester. The trends are there, but we need to know if this is really working for Vol State students."

Anatomy and physiology is one of the tougher course areas at the college. It was picked for the pilot because of the nature the subject matter.

"A&P is such a content rich course," said Clifford. "None of the concepts are difficult, but there is so much to cover. It's the human body and all of the science that makes the body work."

"It's a gatekeeper course," said SI Assistant Director Dr. Regina Henry. "Essentially, if students don't make it through that class they can't go on and meet their educational, and ultimately, professional goals."

Henry was hired as SI assistant director last fall. A big part of her job is recruiting the SI group leaders. Those leaders say students can see the benefits of the program.

"SI kind of forces students to look at material not just in class or right before a test, but on an ongoing basis," said SI Leader Melody McVey.

Dr. Clifford says the program works because often students will talk to each other, even when they are afraid to admit to their professor that they are having trouble understanding a concept. It can even be a matter of the SI group leaders helping to explain complicated material in ways that are different from how it's explained in class.

"A lot of students will come to me and say 'I just don't get it.' I'll explain it to them in another way and students say that helps," McVey said.

A survey of students in the first semester pilot group showed that 96 percent would recommend SI to other students.

"SI lives and dies by word of mouth," Clifford said. "If students are successful and they get what they need and they're seeing their performance improve, they will tell other students."

The finished study results will include data collected during the fall 2010 semester.

Henry says there are 19 SI leaders this spring semester for 25 sections of SI sessions, which is a total of 50 sessions per week.

To learn more about the location and times for study sessions, visit the SI website at:


A service provided by the Office of Public Relations.