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«Wh en reviewing the literature on academic support styles, there is considerable evidence for the effectiveness of traditional one-on-one tutoring ...»

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Erik Cooper

Tutoring Center


The Effect of

Drop-In Tutoring

While tutoring as a whole has been demonstrated to improve student learning

across a variety of subjects and age groups, there is little published evidence

for the effectiveness of drop-in tutoring at the undergraduate level. This type

of tutoring can be derided as homework help; however, it is clear from this

study that students who made use of the Tutoring Center (TC) regularly

gained more academically than simply help with an individual class. In fact students who visited the TC more than 10 times per quarter had approximately 10% higher rates of persistence and approximately 0.2 points higher average GPA’s than students who infrequently visited or who do not visit the TC during their first year of college.

Wh en reviewing the literature on academic support styles, there is considerable evidence for the effectiveness of traditional one-on-one tutoring where a single tutor meets regularly with a single student to improve the learning and understanding of the student (Cohen & Kulik, 1981; Hartman, 1990; Topping, 1996).

However, many colleges and universities choose not to or cannot afford to make individual tutoring available to their students. Instead, tutoring centers or learning labs at many institutions provide tutoring support to a number of students simultaneously. While it is assumed that students receive the same or similar benefit from tutoring in a center as they would from individual tutoring, “there is a lack of conclusive evidence to provide the rationale for the widespread implementation of effective peer tutoring programs in college settings” (Lildren & Meier, 1991, p.69).

This lack of evidence may, in part, be due to the small effect tutoring has on college students’ grades when compared to other academic success factors, such as time management skills, relationships, or employment, and may be further complicated because “little is known about the people being peer tutored in higher education…and about how being Tutoring center effectiveness 21 22 Journal of College Reading and Learning, 40 (2), Spring 2010 tutored by more advanced students develops students abilities” (Saunders, 1992, p.215). Indeed there is speculation that “the population of students seeking tutoring may be more diverse than the general student population on a particular campus” (Dvorak, 2004, p.41). The diversity of college populations may be one issue that decreases effect size for tutoring in college. In the literature, most studies of successful tutoring focus on single classes, single grades, or single subjects in controlled situations where tutoring occurs in regular places and at regular times;

in other words, homogenous populations. However, in a college setting, particularly in the type of tutoring addressed in this article, the population being measured can come from entirely different academic, ethnic, socioeconomic, and regional backgrounds. The resulting heterogeneity of the population may reduce the measurable effects of tutoring. The purpose of this study, in part, is to address these issues.

In order to address these issues, it is first necessary to specifically describe what type of tutoring occurs. One of the difficulties in discussing tutoring is defining tutoring. Bray (UNESCO, 2007) describes tutoring as the shadow education system, in part because its forms and features are indistinct. For instance, is a tutor someone who is a trained professional, such as a teacher or professor who helps students outside of normal class time, or is a tutor a peer who has greater understanding of course material, or is a tutor a fellow student who simply likes to help? All of these descriptions fit general definitions of tutoring, and examples of each can be found in the literature. Therefore, in order to better classify specific types of tutoring Topping (1996) attempts to classify tutoring into fundamental types based on the nature of the tutor and the tutor’s role in the learning experience. The Tutoring Center (TC) at Western Washington University (Western) uses a model of tutoring in which students use the TC as a study area where tutors are available and freely circulate among students as they have questions. This model of tutoring is referred to locally as “drop-in tutoring” and loosely fits into Toppings’ (1996) dyadic cross-year fixed-role peer tutoring group, in which more experienced students partner with and tutor less experienced students. In this case, the peer tutors are generally juniors and seniors who have performed well academically in the course(s) they tutor. All tutors are required to complete a College Reading and Learning Association certified training program during their first quarter of employment. Training takes place in a two credit class that introduces tutors to some of the fundamentals of student development theory and questioning techniques, and helps develop interpersonal and teaching skills in a tutoring environment.

Primarily, tutoring in the TC focuses on general university requirements (GUR’s), such as pre-calculus mathematics, science (biology, chemistry, Tutoring center effectiveness 23 and physics), and economics, although there are several tutors who are specifically devoted to tutoring study skills.

Assessing the effectiveness of the TC in the past has been extremely difficult because student tracking was practically non-existent, with little accurate data about who used the center, how many times they used the center, or even for what subjects. The addition of the TutorTrac tracking system allowed the TC to keep more accurate student usage records and to merge those usage records with individual student records, which created greater freedom to compare students across different factors.

Unfortunately, since accurate tracking began fall quarter 2007, useful data only exists for the past academic year, and therefore it is difficult to get a complete picture about the effectiveness of tutoring across all levels of students. In short, the center cannot assess the effect of tutoring on students who may or may not have used the center before they were accurately tracked. As a result, this analysis focuses on two specific cohorts: 200740F and 200740X. These cohorts represent the entering freshmen class for the fall of 2007, the first class for which we have complete data. At Western, terms are labeled by the year followed by a two digit suffix: 10 for winter, 20 for spring, 30 for summer, and 40 for fall.

The two cohorts represent traditional freshmen (200740F) and freshmen Running Start students (200740X). Running Start students enroll in college courses during high school, allowing them to simultaneously earn credit for both high school and college. Since the groups have somewhat different characteristics, they were often analyzed separately; however, in some instances student data for both groups was combined in order to gain statistical power.

Three general categories were evaluated for this assessment: persistence, academic standing, and cumulative grade point average. Within cumulative grade point average, several factors were used as points of comparison: high school GPA, math SAT score, first generation status, and race/ethnicity. When assessing the center’s effectiveness, the students were further grouped into categories of center usage: greater than or equal to 10 visits in a quarter, fewer than 10 visits, or no tutoring center visits. The value of 10 visits was selected as the cutoff for the high use group as that number roughly corresponds to one student visit per week.

Method The TC used TutorTrac software to track student usage statistics during the 2007-2008 academic year. When students entered the center, they ran their student ID cards through a magnetic card reader log into the center, while a receptionist was on hand to ensure that students logged 24 Journal of College Reading and Learning, 40 (2), Spring 2010 into the center and to address questions. TutorTrac allowed the center to log the number of visits, track the hours spent in the center, and differentiate students by the classes for which they received tutoring. At the end of the academic year, all student visit information and course grade information was downloaded from TutorTrac and exported to SPSS.

In addition, student demographics and admissions information were exported from the university’s student information system and matched to the student usage data. The combination of data from these two sources allowed post hoc grouping of students by specific criteria.

In terms of ethnicity and first generation status—two factors typically associated with lower performance—the characteristics of the students who used the center roughly corresponded to the student population.

In the two cohorts examined, 33% were first generation students and 25% identified themselves as having an ethnicity other than Caucasian.

Of the students who visited the TC at least once during the 2007-2008 academic year 32% were first generation students and 27% identified themselves as other than Caucasian. Since these proportions are similar, the data appears to run contrary to Dvorak’s (2004) claim that the population of students receiving tutoring is more diverse than the general student body.

Results Student Characteristics and Usage On average minority students visited the TC more often than did Caucasian students (F= 9.472, p=.002), but there was no significant difference between the visits of first generation and non-first generation students. Similar to other reports of student success (Kezar & Eckel, 2007), for the classes in which students received tutoring, both minority and first generation students had lower average grade point averages than the Caucasian or non-first generation students.

Persistence and Academic Standing As seen in Tables 1 & 2, there are clearly differences in the rates of persistence of the students (most clearly seen as the percentage of students not enrolled for this term). While Tables 1 and 2 only show a single term, 200840 (Fall 2008 or one year after matriculation), the trend of higher rates of non-enrollment for students who did not visit the TC as compared to students who visited the TC hold for all quarters for which statistics are available. Or, in other words, students who visited the TC 10 or more times were more likely to be still enrolled in school during any given quarter, when compared to students who did not visit the TC or who did so fewer than 10 times.

Tutoring center effectiveness 25 An issue related to enrollment and persistence is academic standing. Some of the students who were not enrolled after one year were academically dismissed. At Western, good standing is defined as having a cumulative grade point average greater than or equal to 2.0 on 4.0 scale. The other categories of academic standing are academic warning, students who have a single quarter GPA below 2.0, probation, students whose cumulative GPA is below 2.0 for the first time, and continuing probation, students who have a cumulative GPA below 2.0, but who had a quarterly GPA above 2.0 the preceding quarter.

Table 1 200740F Cohort Academic Standing 200840

–  –  –

NE: Not enrolled this term GS: Good standing Students who do not maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0, or who are not able to maintain a quarterly GPA of at least 2.2 while in continuing probation, are academically dismissed. Unsurprisingly, since academic standing plays a role in enrollment and persistence, there appears to be a similar trend for both cohorts, in which there is a higher 26 Journal of College Reading and Learning, 40 (2), Spring 2010 rate of students in good standing for students who visited the TC than the rate of good standing for students who did not visit the TC.

However, these trends are not necessarily significant. In comparison, the rates of persistence for the 200740F cohort (Table 3) do show there is significant difference between the rates of persistence of both TC visiting groups when compared to the students who did not visit the TC.

Unfortunately this trend does not hold for the 200740X cohort (Table 4).

Since the rates of persistence are similar across both cohorts, it seems likely that the 200740X cohort is not large enough to have the statistical power necessary to show significance.

Table 3 Differences in Rates of Persistence for 200740F

–  –  –

No Visit: Student did not visit the TC 10 Visits: Student visited the TC between 1 and 9 times 10 Visits: Student visited the TC 10 or more times Table 4 Differences in Rates of Persistence for 200740X

–  –  –

No Visit: Student did not visit the TC 10 Visits: Student visited the TC between 1 and 9 times 10 Visits: Student visited the TC 10 or more times The relative rate of students in good standing is likewise encouraging on paper, but only the rate of good standing for the 200740F students who visited the TC 10 times is significant when compared to students who did not visit the TC. As can be seen in Tables 5 and 6, the difference in proportion of students in good standing is not significant to the usual p=.05 standard for the 200740X cohort or when comparing the difference in rates of good standing for the students who did not visit the TC as compared to the students who visited the TC fewer than 10 times for the 200740F cohort. However, these other analyses approach Tutoring center effectiveness 27 significance and therefore it seems likely that future analyses, which include more students across more cohorts, will show a clear difference between these groups.

Table 5 Differences in Rates of Good Standing for 200740F

–  –  –

No Visit: Student did not visit the TC 10 Visits: Student visited the TC between 1 and 9 times 10 Visits: Student visited the TC 10 or more times Table 6 Differences in Rates of Good Standing for 200740X

–  –  –

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