Many colleges and universities strive to provide educational opportunities to their communities by adopting open enrollment policies. As a result, courses, especially in STEM, have students with varying degrees of backgrounds. To help students make the most out of their college experiences, many educational institutions offer tutoring services to help students who require additional guidance. This article discusses the Tutoring Replenishment Program adopted by Essex Community College, and the results of the last four years in the chemistry and biology department.
Essex County College (ECC) opens its doors to all students. This open-door policy means that students have varying levels of competency in math and science, and students who enroll in science and math courses come from different backgrounds. Because of this, it was imperative that we provide a means to help students better succeed. The choice we made was to recruit peer tutors to assist their colleagues.
To find qualified tutors pertaining to chemistry, we relied on innovative programs which, by their nature, highlighted talented students that could take on the task of tutoring. For the last 10 years, I had the opportunity to implement both PLTL (Peer-Led Team Learning) and POGIL (Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) methodologies in my chemistry classrooms. Therefore, I was encouraged to make a proposal to share this pedagogy with my colleagues as it was also implemented in other educational institutions with comparable outcomes.
Our vision for discovery learning at ECC was to link chemistry concepts to real-world applications of interest to students, rather than to standard textbook presentations. In this approach, students learn through solving a series of practical problems, working in small groups with a peer leader who guides the group through discussion and assigned problems. The peer leader is then recommended the following semester as a candidate for divisional peer tutoring.
With this process, we established a unique method of learning which both accommodated the needs of students and the teaching environment. Classes were divided into groups of five to six students, and a student leader was assigned by the faculty to each group. Students who received A or B+ scores for the first exam and first few quizzes were assigned as leaders of their group. This leader was then responsible for that group for the rest of the semester. The groups would then work on problem solving during class sessions and continue their work outside of the classroom. This approach fostered engagement, encouraged critical thinking, improved problem solving, and enhanced learning. The group peer leader was then assigned as a peer tutor in our division the following semester.
Students helping students: Tutoring by peers
In 2014, we started the peer tutoring pilot project by recruiting volunteer students from the chemistry club. Members who had been peer tutors for chemistry courses were selected based on their scores in the course and their participation as the class peer leader from prior semesters. The project was a tremendous success, which encouraged me, along with the support of the college dean of STEM, to apply for grants through the PBI (Predominant Black Institution) and the NJ-SPACE (New Jersey Space Consortium) grant funds. In October of 2015, we started hiring the first in-house peer tutors to assist our students in the division of biology, chemistry, and physics.
In the following years, the program was implemented in our school learning center by hiring students who graduated from chemistry and biology courses with A’s and B+s, as well as other subjects such as math and English. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our in-house peer tutoring program continued. The school relied on our graduates who were recommended by their faculties for the recruiting process. To date, our in-house peer tutors continue to serve hundreds of our students.
Benefits of peer tutoring
Peer tutoring benefits the students being tutored, the students who are tutoring, and the college itself. To accomplish this goal, we encourage faculty to continue to embrace the peer leader learning pedagogy so we can continue serving our college community with our in-house peer tutors. This process helps generate a continuous stream of qualified peer tutors as well as reduces student attrition and increases student retention.
The benefits to students who take advantage of tutors can be summarized as follows:
- Establishes an environment where students can learn in small groups and learn how to work as a team
- Enhances students’ engagement, communication, and independence skills
- Promotes critical thinking and problem-solving based learning
- Increases the understanding of course content
- Builds self-reliance and confidence
The benefits to the students who take on the role of tutors can be summarized as follows:
- Builds confidence
- Fosters leadership qualities
- Financial rewards
- Satisfaction for helping fellow students
- Experience to be listed on a resume
The benefits to universities can be summarized as follows:
- Increases completion rates and retention
- Decreases attrition
- Generates in-house qualified peer tutors
Nidhal Marashi, PhD, graduated with Mphil PhD in bio-organic chemistry from London University, Kings College before attaining her postdoctoral fellowship at St. Thomas & Guys Hospital of London. Today, she teaches at Essex County College as an associate professor in the division of biology, chemistry, and physics. Marashi is also the principle investigator and coordinator of the NASA County College Aerospace Scholarship Program at Essex County College.
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Peer Led Team Learning: www.pltl.org.
Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning: www.pogil.org.