By Sergio Mercado
CI’s peer tutoring services have risen to the challenge of providing essential tutoring and mentoring for students despite the drastic change in environment.
Embedded Peer Education (EPE) has been a new focus for CI’s Stem Center and Learning Resource Center. EPE relies on student tutors being integrated into the classroom. At CI, it is put into practice through Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL) and Embedded Peer Tutoring.
In both services, an embedded peer educator — a CI student — attends a course they have taken before and provides support to a specific course section. As Brook Masters, coordinator of student academic success, described it: “They are step by step taking the course along students, but also they’re one step ahead of students to provide academic support in that specific course section.”
Embedded peer educators also have access to the course’s Canvas page, where they can upload notes on the lecture and send announcements to students. In PLTL, weekly workshops are organized by the tutor to help the students who are taking the course. Similarly, embedded peer tutors offer “office hours” where they are available to provide individual tutoring. For example, if an exam is coming up, the embedded peer educator may schedule an hour that students can come in for review.
The role of EPE goes beyond that of conventional tutoring. Embedded peer educators can act as a second pair of eyes for professors who may not be able to give the same individualized attention to all students in each of their course sessions. In addition, they provide resources to students who may need them. Professors with peer educators embedded in their class can call on them to review students’ activity in class or on Canvas and “do a little bit of outreach to students who may be struggling to connect or struggling to understand to use Canvas. It can be kind of like an early alert system,” Masters said.
Peer educators often also fill the role of a mentor, offering advice to students about study habits, classes to take and opportunities the University offers. The ultimate goal for peer education is not just success in the classroom, but the creation of independent and capable students. Patricio Ruano, a senior biology and global studies major and PLTL leader, told The CI View, “In my own students, I’ve watched them grow in their chemistry capability to the point where they feel comfortable enough to apply to become tutors and PLTL Leaders themselves.”
This is a beneficial relationship for students, faculty and tutors alike. The students receive valuable help in their courses as well as mentorship; faculty gain a pair of hands and eyes in the online classroom; and tutors continuously practice the foundational coursework skills of their majors.
And it works wonders for the students served. Masters told The CI View, “When we went virtual, we noticed that students kind of went away, but if they had an embedded peer educator in their course… they continued to come to the tutoring centers.” Research in The Review of Higher Education has shown that EPE models improve retention rates in Minority and Hispanic serving institutions, especially among historically underserved students. At a time when students are facing more obstacles to their educational success than ever, students need all the support they can get.
This is in part why CI’s tutoring centers expanded their EPE program. “The semester that COVID hit, spring 2020, we only had 12 courses that had received an embedded peer tutor,” Masters said. In the last year the centers have grown their EPE services, with more than 55 courses now integrating a peer educator. Almost every tutor at either center has been trained to assist a course and assigned a class to assist in. “With the announcement that the fall (2020) semester would be online, we decided to expand embedded peer education… So we went from having 12 courses covered in the spring of 2020 to having 59 courses covered in the spring of 2021,” said Masters.
As the centers adapted to the challenges of being online, they trained their tutors to do so as well. Tutors are trained in skills vital to the online learning environment, such as utilizing course Canvas pages, organizing breakout rooms on Zoom and supporting asynchronous classes. “We are using Embedded Peer Education in an expanded and ramped up way, particularly to support the virtual learning environment that we’re in,” Masters said. Where many services have struggled to adapt, EPE programs have seen rapid growth and new opportunities to support students.
“Working online has allowed me to more immediately connect students with each other and with CI, those who attend PLTL almost always leave with an extra contact to reach out to,” Ruano said. “I think this is an unforeseen role PLTL now fills, especially for asynchronous courses. Workshops are now a primary and easy way students see each other, interact, catch up and overall build community.” In addition, since moving online, the STEM Center and Learning Resource Center have combined to create a single tutoring portal, allowing for extended tutoring hours to help students whose schedules are less flexible.
Since the STEM Center and Learning Resources Centers had to adapt to the online environment, they have explored new strategies in tutoring. Changes such as increased Zoom tutoring support and online collaboration may be here to stay, even once CI returns to campus. Masters remarked, “We are likely to see a lot of these things continue, and hopefully we will see that the campus values these expanded programs.”
Even for students whose classes do not offer EPE support, the STEM Center and Learning Resource Center provide tutoring for a wide array of courses. “For the LRC and STEM Center, we cover all the non-writing specific courses,” Masters said. For help with writing, the Writing and Multiliteracy Center is most helpful for students. Although tutoring will remain off campus for the remainder of spring semester, the centers are doing what they can to continue to offer a welcoming environment for students to study or find help. Masters suggests seeking support sooner rather than later; “You don’t have to wait until you’re struggling,” she told The CI View.
For more information about the Learning Resource Center, visit https://www.csuci.edu/learningresourcecenter/. Additionally, information about the STEM Center and PLTL can be found at https://www.csuci.edu/promesas/sss/.