Spotlight on Innovation: How Texas A&M – Corpus Christi is Using Online Supplemental Instruction to Boost STEM Student Success

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The US Department of Education has awarded the multi-million dollar First in the World grant to 24 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

Texas A&M – Corpus Christi already offers face-to-face supplemental instruction (SI) for many barrier STEM classes and has seen it boost retention and graduation. However, the number of students who took advantage of SI remained low in comparison to the number of students in the courses. Students frequently reported they could not attend face-to-face sessions due to schedule conflicts or jobs.

Dr. Patricia Spaniol-Mathews, Executive Director for Programs for Academic Student Support, hopes to eliminate that obstacle by piloting an interactive online supplemental instruction program with the $3.3 million First In The World grant.  It is an exciting opportunity because the online option will eliminate schedule barriers, increase the number of students who can benefit from supplemental instruction, and hopefully boost STEM retention and completion rates at TAMUCC.

The Initiative

During the project, TAMUCC will pilot an interactive, online supplemental instruction with several unique features, including:

  • The SI sessions will mirror the face-to-face sessions by the use of WebEx.
  • Each WebEx session will also be recorded and made available to students to access during the rest of the semester so that students who weren’t able to participate in the three times a week online sessions or who miss a week or two can access the material later in the semester.
  • SI leaders will also hold WebEx office hours online, giving students another opportunity to ask the SI leader about what they saw and heard during the  interactive session.
  • The same SI leader will conduct both the face-to-face and online sessions so there’s no difference in the style or information provided.

“This gives them the option of being able to go online, anytime,” Spaniol-Mathews explains. For project purposes, half of the students will be randomly assigned to face-to-face SI and the other half will be assigned to online SI. She also acknowledges that some students might want to opt-out of a face-to-face assignment to choose online instead — or vice versa — but hopes it will not become a major issue.

“What comes first is the student,” she explains. SI is optional for all students, so meeting the needs of students who desire a specific format will remain a priority.

Keys to Success

To be successful, TAMUCC will need to address two key areas: faculty support and data collection.

Faculty support

“Faculty buy-in is extremely important,” Spaniol-Mathews emphasizes. Because some professors prefer that their SI leaders provide face-to-face sessions and may have concerns about a new untried method the project has started out with a smaller pilot project for this spring.  She has started the project with seven barrier courses: (1) Microbiology, (1) General Chemistry II, (2) Engineering Materials Science, and (3) Stats for Life.
Data collection

Data collection and analysis will also play a crucial role.  Approximately 6,000 students will be involved during the four years of the grant, each with multiple data points.  Their analysis will include multiple factors, such as:

  • Midterm and final grade
  • GPA
  • Whether students pass the course
  • Whether students are retained in STEM

To hit the ground running, her team will also start a data collection pilot this spring, so any problems can be worked out before the project is fully up and running in Fall 2015.

Why You Should Watch This Project

If successful, TAMUCC’s online supplemental instruction model has the potential to boost STEM retention and completion while also providing substantial cost savings in terms of classroom space, especially at any campus where space is at a premium.

Part of Spaniol-Mathews’ and the external evaluator data analysis will include the saving in classroom space alone from offering SI online.  We’re also looking forward to the results to see if attendance in the online sections clearly outpaces the face-to-face ones.