BY DIANE HAYGEN, Guest Reporter

Academic performance and retention rates are increasing in the introductory psychology and sociology courses at the University of Michigan-Dearborn as students participate in Supplemental Instruction (SI), according to Deborah Roundtree, Supervisor of the SI Program in the Department of Behavioral Sciences.

Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic assistance program which offers free, structured, interactive study sessions for select courses, usually first and second year traditionally difficult courses. SI is anonymous to instructors and open to all students enrolled in the course.

“Supplemental Instruction is designed to help students take responsibility for their learning and develop the skills needed to be lifelong learners,” and “strives to improve student grades and retention,” said Roundtree.

Supplemental Instruction identifies high-risk courses, not high-risk students. Unlike many traditional academic assistance programs, SI begins the first two weeks of classes before students experience difficulty.

Trained SI leaders help students understand the course material, develop study strategies and prepare for exams by leading interactive study groups which meet regularly for one hour twice a week.

SI leaders are typically students who have taken and successfully completed the course. SI leaders attend all course lectures, take notes, and serve as “model students.”

SI leaders help students ask and answer their own questions. SI is about finding the answers, not getting the answers.

The Department of Behavioral Sciences began offering SI in Fall 2010 for six sections of Psychology 170 and five sections of Sociology 200. Noticeable differences in grades and retention rates have been reported when comparing SI participants to non-participants, according to Roundtree.

Of the 65 students enrolled in Psychology 170 section 005 for Fall 2010, 20 students attended SI sessions. The average final grade for SI participants was 3.42 compared to 2.02 for non-participants.

“Our biggest impact is in the DFW rate – D’s, F’s, and withdrawals – 4.6% for SI participants compared to 21.5% for non-participants for this section of Psychology 170,” Roundtree said. All 11 sections of SI supported courses in the Behavioral Sciences reported significantly lower DFW rates for SI participants compared to non-participants.

Roundtree, who keeps track of the attendance for more than 600 students, is currently in the process of setting up a study to determine at what point SI attendance affects students’ grades on test scores. National studies indicate that students who attend six or more sessions of SI benefit consistently from it, as indicated by Roundtree.

Roundtree said that more professors are expressing an interest in offering SI supported courses and that the program has been “pretty remarkably successful.”

Stanley Henderson, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Life, Nancy Wrobel, Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences, and William Keener, Director of Academic Assistance, have been major forces behind SI at the university and would like to see the program expand, according to Roundtree.

Supplemental Instruction (SI) was developed by Dr. Deanna Martin in 1973 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Colleges and universities around the world are currently using the SI model.

For more information about SI offered by the Department of Behavioral Sciences, contact Deborah Roundtree at droundtr@umd.umich.edu.

For information about SI offered by the Department of Natural Sciences, contact Dr. Debalina Bandyopadhyay, Director of the Science Learning Center, Pre-Med/Pre-Health Advisor and Supervisor of the SI Program, at debalina@umd.umich.edu.