Tutoring helps college students & their instructors

by Julie Dodd

study group at UF Teaching Center

Study groups at the University of Florida Teaching Center provide students with the opportunity to work on questions they have about course material. Photos from the UF Teaching Center

Most of us who teach undergraduate classes realize at some point during the term that some of our students are not likely to complete the course successfully.

From the student perspective, not only does a low grade impact the student’s GPA but potentially the student’s scholarship, outlook on college, and choice of major.

As instructors, we also know that we don’t have enough time to provide the additional one-on-one assistance needed by those struggling students – helping some master the fundamentals of the course content and helping others be more effective in their approach in studying for exams.

Many colleges and universities offer free tutoring services, recognizing both the students’ needs and the limited time instructors have to provide additional support for every student.

The Teaching Center is the tutoring resource at the University of Florida, providing a range of free tutoring services.

I talked with Dr. Winifred Cooke, Teaching Center Director, about the Teaching Center’s services to help students.

“It is surprising. Good students are the ones who come in for tutoring, not the weak ones,” Dr. Cooke said. “The students who have a B+ but would like to earn an A or students who have a C or B- and want a B or B+ are the ones who seek extra help – not the students who are in danger of not passing the course.”

That’s where instructors can help, Dr. Cooke said, by identifying those students who are having difficulty in the course and encouraging them to seek additional help. Instructors can encourage students to come to office hours but also can direct the students to utilize the resources available through the Teaching Center.

Dr. Cooke and I discussed the fact that many college instructors and teaching assistants aren’t familiar with tutoring programs because they may not have used such programs when they were undergraduates.

I’ve found that sometimes instructors and TAs have a difficult time understanding why students can’t “get” the course concepts. For some who teach, the subject area concepts were easy to grasp when they were students. For others, they are so advanced in their knowledge of the field that they’ve forgotten what they didn’t know when they didn’t know it, as the saying goes.

Dr. Cooke emphasized that working with the Teaching Center resources can make a difference in students’ grades and their learning.

Three of the Teaching Center’s offerings are peer tutoring, supplemental instruction, and study skills workshops.

Peer tutoring available for a number of undergraduate courses

Peer tutoring is offered for a number of courses in Mathematics (including Pre-Calculus, Calculus 1 and 2, Differential Equations and others), several Statistics courses, the Sciences (Chemistry and Physics courses), and Engineering. The complete list of courses that have tutoring is posted on the Teaching Center website.

The peer tutors hold workshops with student groups or can be scheduled for private appointments.

“The tutors don’t take the place of the teachers,” Dr. Cooke said. She explained that the tutors add a “whole different process” to the students’ learning.

Students can register online to schedule tutoring times – setting up a weekly tutoring time through the semester. Dr. Cooke emphasized that the earlier in the semester students sign up for tutoring, the more weeks of assistance they will receive.

Students also can drop-in for tutoring assistance for specific courses during specific times. The drop-in schedule is posted on the Teaching Center website.

peer tutor video - UF Teaching Center

Peer tutors have created more than 1,500 content videos.

Students also can improve their course content skills by viewing videos. The tutors have developed more than 1,500 videos that address learning issues in specific UF courses.

Peer tutors are undergraduate students who have recently taken the course themselves. In the tutoring sessions, the peer tutors can raise questions they had about course content and discuss ways they structured their own learning in the course.

The peer tutors are selected through an application process. The students must have earned at least a B+ in the course they would tutor in and, if the course is part of a sequence, the peer tutor also must have earned a a minimum of B+ in the next course in the sequence. While a B+ is the minimum grade required, most received an A.

Dr. Cooke said that equally important to subject matter competence for the peer tutors are communication and interpersonal skills. The review process includes interviewing the candidates and checking references.

Supplemental Instruction

Supplemental Instruction (SI), also known as study groups, provides a collaborative learning setting. A trained peer leads the group, with the members of the group creating materials to use in studying the course content. In their SI meetings, students can ask questions and raise issues. Supplemental Instruction starts the second week of the semester, and students are encouraged to attend sessions throughout the semester.

Students can check online for the times for Supplemental Instruction and register to participate.

Study Skills Workshops

Test preparation video - UF Teaching Center

UF students can watch videos to help them improve their study skills, including how to prepare for tests.

Study Skills Workshops are both held in the Teaching Center and available as videos online.

The face-to-face study skills workshops are taught by a learning strategist with a background in Educational Psychology.

The general study skills workshops include sessions on time management, notetaking, avoiding plagiarism, improving reading speed, and preparing for tests.

The Teaching Center uses TutorTrac to maintain records of student use of tutoring services, Dr. Cooke said.

“This semester (late August through early December 2017), we have had 4,251 different students visit a Teaching Center location for tutoring. They made 22,534 visits and spent 31,512 hours in tutoring,” she said.

Students who participate in tutoring are asked to critique their experience, so that the Teaching Center and the tutors can make any needed adjustments. Dr. Cooke said that she and the tutors find it encouraging to receive many positive comments.

  • “Extremely helpful. My tutor explains things in a way I can easily understand. Can quickly come up with good examples. I’m definitely coming back!”
  • “Great tutor. Made me feel comfortable asking any question and was more than happy to take as much time as needed to answer.”

Even late in the semester, students still can benefit from attending a Supplemental Instruction group session, watching a study skills video, or meeting with a tutor. [Note that watching the UF Teaching Center videos requires having a UF account.]

As an instructor, be sure to check for university-offered tutoring services where you teach. Include information about the tutoring services in the resource section of your syllabus and, from the start of the new term, encourage your students to seek the free tutoring help that is available to them.

Such tutoring support helps the students and helps you as the instructor.

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