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Peer tutor program undergoes new changes

After years of paperwork required for peer tutors to set up their appointments, a new system has been implemented this semester in an attempt to streamline the process.

Starting in fall semester 2016, peer tutors and their tutees are required to use Dr. Donald Crampton, Director of Mills College’s Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) implemented the change with the intention of creating a digital system for scheduling peer tutor appointments. By logging in at several different locations on campus, notably in the CAE itself or in the F.W. Olin Library, students can connect with peer tutors via the internet for any of their courses that have tutors. Crampton also said that the CAE is working with ITS at Mills in an effort to figure out how to have stations set up all over campus.

Because the CAE is one of the main locations for the Accudemia sign-in/sign-out stations, Margaret Seelie, coordinator for the CAE, witnesses the flow of students who now come up to the CAE for tutoring.

“I get here at 9 a.m. and I can’t tell you how amazing it feels, and how encouraging and energizing it is to walk in that door and hear the hushed voices of academic discourse happening,” Seelie said.

The CAE is one of the places a students can sign up for a peer tutor. (Courtesy of the CAE)
The CAE is one of the places a students can sign up for a peer tutor. (Courtesy of the CAE)

Since its start in 2007 by Dr. Helen Walter in the biology department, the peer tutoring program has used a system of filling out physical sheets of paper with the students who come to them for tutoring.  With 80 to 90 students working as peer tutors and around 50 appointments a week, Crampton says this could lead to upwards of 1000 sheets of paper at the end of a semester to sift through. In addition, the scheduling was all done through email between students who the CAE would connect with one another, or students would know who peer tutors were by name and approach them.

One of the biggest difficulties with the paper-only system, according to Crampton, is that it is difficult to assess whether or not the CAE is meeting certain goals. Some of these goals include finding out whether or not receiving peer tutoring is correlative with higher grades in classes and if graduation rates are higher with visits to the CAE and peer tutoring. Having this data can help the CAE gain more resources from the college if they are reaching the goals they have set.

“Trying to take those pieces of paper and trying to convert them into data, that’s not anything that the CAE essentially has the person power to do,” Crampton said.

Seelie says the data that can be collected by using the Accudemia system to track how many students are utilizing peer tutoring is important.  Right now, the data is inaccurate, partly due to the fact that both tutors and students must log in and log out of the Accudemia system for the time to be tracked correctly.

“[The data] is vital,” Seelie said.  “It’s vital to add gravity to what we do here at Mills, but also in the wider academic conversation with other institutions. [Crampton] and I are wanting to go to a conference and speak with knowledge of what we’re doing here, and at the moment we can’t do that.”

Senior Lee Rost has been a peer tutor since 2014 in several science classes and notes that everything about the process has changed.  With the Accudemia system being implemented, peer tutors were required to learn the digital system while also continuing to fill out the paper appointment sheets.

“There are more steps to peer tutor now,” Rost said.  “You have to really go through a checklist in order to finish one appointment, and it’s a little bit of a hassle because it used to be just sign a sheet[…]so there’s a lot of extra steps.”

Crampton says that the paper system is still in effect in order to give students time to adjust.  He says some peer tutors are still working to understand the new system while some have mastered it.

The new peer tutoring system is transferring to a digital system to increase accessibility to students. (Courtesy of CAE)
The new peer tutoring system is transferring to a digital system to increase accessibility to students. (Courtesy of CAE)

English major Clarissa Johnson believes that even though the Accudemia login system can be tricky, having it for scheduling is helpful.

“I think that more clarity in instructions and tutorials would be useful, but overall it seems to be a pretty stable process, and it’s a lot easier than having to email back and forth with students,” Johnson said in an email.

Even though there are still some kinks in the system, Crampton says that the barriers are not causing a decrease in students seeking tutoring. At the end of the semester, the CAE staff will sit down and consider the feedback they have gotten from the peer tutors and students and at the problems the systems might have run into.

“There’s a bell curve of students where you have really great first adopters, and they’ll just know it, and you’ll have some students in the middle who struggle, and you’ll have some students who just won’t know how the system works,” Crampton said. “We need to figure out how to support all the students all along that.”