Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions at USD are available for math and science courses designed to help students excel in challenging classes and help instructors gain leadership skills. USD also offers a new online tutoring option called Smart Thinking on Desire2Learn.
Over 90 percent of the tutors that work for Smart Thinking have graduate degrees in the areas they’re tutoring, Sarah Wittmuss, coordinator of SI and tutoring said.
“If you’re in the middle of the night and you’re studying chemistry and you need an answer, you can get on-demand tutoring right away,” Wittmuss said.
The application process to hire new SI leaders and tutors will begin this month. Applicants chosen to interview will present a teaching demonstration, but it doesn’t have to be specific to the class they are applying to teach.
Wittmuss said there is a misperception that SI courses are chosen based on faculty.
“It really has nothing to do with the faculty, it has to do with the difficulty of the material,” Wittmuss said. “The courses that we generally pick are those that have a high rate of students struggling, failing, withdrawing or it’s a really important hurdle class to get into the major or to be on that particular academic track.”
Wittmuss said there is a steady number of natural science classes and a couple of general education social sciences, but other classes have the opportunity to add an SI if there is a need for it.
“This year nursing approached us because they were seeing a need for SI in their pathophysiology class, which was the last class before students get admitted to the nursing program, and they wanted to try a pilot SI…so we did a partnership with them to add that and do some training together and have some open tutoring in addition to SI,” Wittmuss said.
When there isn’t budget room for an SI, Wittmuss said they try to fill the holes in with support through tutoring.
Once a class is slotted for SI, students who have received an A or sometimes a B in that course or completed a higher level of the class can apply to be an SI leader, Wittmuss said.
“Sometimes we’ve had difficulty finding students who can fit re-attending that class into their schedule and so then we often get recommendations from faculty,” Wittmuss said. “Then sometimes when the faculty suggested, the students are more willing to apply.”
Anna Doering, a criminal justice SI, was inspired to apply by her criminal justice SI her freshman year.
“Just through talking with him, that’s pretty much what motivated me I guess to do it, as well as I really enjoy the professor for the class,” Doering said. “I knew that it would be a good experience to also get to work with that professor more and develop a better relationship with the professor.”
Doering is a criminal justice major, but since becoming an SI leader, she has considered a profession in teaching.
“I’ve realized that I really like spending time with the students, teaching them the material and helping them like prepare for exams and stuff. It’s really exciting when you can go to a review session and all the students are nervous, and then you come back to the session after the test and they’re all excited because they did well and it was easier than they thought it was,” Doering said.
Wittmuss said it’s common for SI leaders to find a love for teaching.
“We’ve had a number of SIs in the time I’ve done this job who’ve actually changed their majors to teaching instead of being science or whatever because they really enjoy the work with their peers,” Wittmuss said.
As much as Doering enjoys being an SI leader, she said the time commitment is much more than she anticipated.
SI leaders are expected to attend all the classes, but are paid to attend the class again with their students, meet with faculty, hold an office hour and prepare and hold SI sessions throughout the week. Altogether, the position ends up as a weekly 10 to 12-hour commitment, Wittmuss said.
Additionally, Doering said it’s difficult finding ways to teach each session in a new, creative way.
“I look at previous lesson plans of old SI instructors, I draw on experiences that I’ve had and then we also have workbooks that give us different ideas for activities,” Doering said. “I go on Pinterest to find fun activities for them too that would hopefully make students excited and want to be involved in SI.”
Despite the challenges, Doering said she has found the experience rewarding.
“I have a student in one of my current classes this semester that was in my SI during the fall semester, and she actually told me that if it wasn’t for me she doesn’t think she would have been able to pass the class,” Doering said. “That was really rewarding just to know that what I was doing is actually helping students.”
Josh Welch, a first-year biomedical major, said he goes to biology and chemistry SIs in order to learn the material further.
“The teacher is more likely to round up your grade at the end for trying harder and they practice tests; those are nice,” Welch said.
Wittmuss said data shows that students who regularly attend SI receive one letter grade higher than students that do not.
Doering said the students are the ones putting in the work to succeed in the class.
“It’s important for students to know that really it’s them that’s able to make it through the class and succeed…they’re dedicating their time to come to SI and I’m just there to help them and give them the tools that they need,” Doering said.
Students wishing to apply to be an SI leader can email Sarah Wittmuss at Sarah.Wittmuss@usd.edu.