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What is the Supplemental Instruction Program?

Developed at the University of Missouri—Kansas City in 1973, Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic support and retention program for students enrolled in historically difficult classes, such as Economics, Applied Calculus, Statistics, Accounting, Physics and Chemistry. American University is one of over 1400 U.S. colleges and universities offering this program to students. A unique feature of SI is that it does not target at-risk student populations, but instead welcomes all students, who participate in weekly study-review sessions on a voluntary basis.Also a key element of SI, these sessions are facilitated by student leaders. 

Trained and supervised by Academic Support and Access Center staff, student SI leaders offer two regularly scheduled hour-long peer-facilitated group study sessions each week. SI leaders are not TAs. They do not grade, help prepare class quizzes or exams, or substitute for the professor. Their role is to complement what students are learning in class, help students develop successful academic strategies for the subject, and offer opportunities for practice and preparation for quizzes and exams. In order to accomplish these goals, the SI leaders attend class regularly to develop familiarity with the students and to keep up with the syllabus and the way course content is presented. SI leaders can then reinforce how the material is taught and provide participating students additional time on task in a group tutoring setting.

 Key Program Features:

  • Support for students in historically difficult classes
  • Weekly peer-facilitated group study sessions
  • Open, voluntary, and confidential participation—inviting all students
  • Faculty approval for offering SI in their courses

 SI’s Approach:

  • SI leaders are peers who did well in the course and commit to on-going training in how to help students learn
  • Sessions focus not on lecturing or re-teaching, but on organizing and facilitating an effective group study session so that students practice, work together to find answers, and develop useful strategies to learn course material

Who are the SI leaders?

SI leaders are outstanding undergraduate students who have successfully completed the course and, in most cases, additional study in the field. These students have undergone a rigorous selection process that includes faculty recommendations and interviews. Most SI leader applicants are referred to the program by faculty and then selected by the SI coordinator. 

Over the course of the semester, leaders participate in intensive, ongoing training and are supervised in the Academic Support and Access Center. Questions about their role or performance can be directed to the program coordinator.

How effective is SI at AU?

According both to national and American University statistics, on average, students who participate in the SI sessions earn a higher final grade than students who do not participate. Also, substantially fewer participants are likely to fail or withdraw from the course. Data shows the positive effect of SI on AU student performance and retention. Consistently 33-57% of enrolled students participated in SI during a given semester and over 90% of these students earned a course grade of A, B, or C, compared with 87% or less of non-participating students. Over the past five years, the mean final grade for students attending SI was 3.03, compared to 2.91 for non-participants.

The national data shows similar results for participating four-year private colleges. Over the five-year period from fall 2003 to fall 2006, the mean course grade for SI participants was 2.88, while non-participants earned an average grade of 2.38. SI participants, moreover, were less likely to receive a grade of D or F or to withdraw from the course than non-participants: at the four-year private colleges, 12% or participating students earned a D, F or W, compared to 27% of non-participating students. National data indicated that SI was equally effective in private and public colleges, as well as two year programs. (National data obtained from

What do students and faculty say about it?

In surveys administered over the past four years, AU students who participated in SI responded that SI was helpful in a number of ways, including getting answers to specific questions, reviewing for exams, working practice problems, and discussing difficult concepts. Many students wrote positive comments about their experience in SI, including the following: “The SI leader was accessible and helpful.” “[The SI leader] was very respectful and considerate towards students.” “[I didn’t] feel bad about asking questions.” “SI is a good program for all subjects.” Over 90% of students responding to a recent survey, for example, felt that SI should be continued for the course in the next fall. 

Participating faculty have also responded positively about SI: 99% of faculty who completed a recent survey reported that there was a “very good chance” they would participate again in SI.  Many professors have written positive comments, such as, “[SI] offered an additional opportunity for students to get help which is nice.” “The SI leader was excellent!” “SI has been an invaluable resource. With almost 40 students, and a topic that many first-timers have trouble with, the SI leader helped bridge the gap.” 

What is the role of faculty in SI?

Support SI for your course

Faculty must approve SI for their courses. There are some courses for which SI is not appropriate, including courses where TAs already hold regular, comprehensive discussion/review sessions. 

Allow leader to attend class regularly and to make announcements occasionally

Once a faculty member has approved SI, he or she allows the student SI leader to attend class. This critical program aspect allows leaders to follow the course material and instruction as well as have opportunities to meet the students and periodically to make announcements in class. These announcements typically take just a few minutes, and leaders will contact professors in advance to make sure which class day is most convenient. Many participating faculty also add the leader to the class Blackboard, so that leaders can send reminders and announcements to the class this way. Participating faculty are encouraged to include a statement about SI in their syllabus (sample announcements are sent to each faculty member), and to announce SI at least once in class. In addition, the leaders will hand out surveys to the students twice during the semester.

Communicate with the leader as needed

Since SI leaders are not TAs, faculty members do not supervise their work or receive session attendance sheets. Students who attend sessions do so voluntarily, and their names, in accordance with program protocol, are kept confidential. However, leaders will need to communicate with the faculty member when they have questions about any point of lecture and when they have developed practice tests or handouts to use in sessions. Leaders will not give out these materials without first reviewing them with the faculty member. Leaders will also meet with their faculty early in the semester to go over course policies.

Foster SI success

Some faculty members have gone further to promote this opportunity for their students by supplying extra practice problems only to SI sessions. Recently, one of the participating faculty members asked the leader to hold a mini-SI session during class to encourage attendance. 

How can one learn more about SI?

Faculty members may discuss SI with the program coordinator by calling the Academic Support and Access Center at 202-885-3360. The SI program Web site has additional program information, including the current semester schedule of SI classes, available in the related links section. Many professors have participated in SI and would be able to answer questions about hosting SI. Faculty members can contact the SI program coordinator at 202-885-3443 to learn which of their department colleagues have participated in SI.