York University hosted the fourth Canada Eastern Supplemental Instruction Retreat Day on Feb. 17. Institutions that sent representatives to the retreat were the University of Guelph, home to the Canadian Supplemental Instruction Office; University of Toronto campuses, Scarborough and Mississauga; OCAD University; Mohawk College; and University of Rochester, New York.
The Supplemental Instruction (SI) model is based on peer-facilitated academic support for high-risk courses. The objective is to target these courses and not individual students. Peer-based study-groups are led by trained undergraduate students known as SI Leaders. Developed by the University of Kansas in 1973, SI has now been successfully carried out on a global level and launched in Canada in 1990 across various postsecondary institutions. The retreat was an opportunity to celebrate this initiative and to expand on it.
The event commenced with welcoming remarks from Krista Bianco, Canadian national representative for SI, who provides training for educational institutions. Bianco, who has worked for more than 10 years in the field, maintains that it is an exciting time in Canada for SI as many postsecondary institutions are coming forward to adopt this initiative. “It is a power model,” she said.
SI is part of the first-year experience at York University. Janet Morrison, York University’s vice-provost students, said, “SI has been, and will be a priority. It is a solution to fostering student success.” Morrison emphasized the importance of this collaboration as York University partners with SI, which she said attests to its power for both the learner and the SI student leaders. She noted that the SI experience will have long-lasting effects for the peer leaders, which will, in turn, help the students here and beyond. Support systems at York need to reflect institutional demographics, as the University is home to many first-generation university students, noted Morrison.
School of Kinesiology and Health Science Professor Mazen Hamadeh spoke about the fundamentals of facilitated learning, which is crucial to the program. He said that Bethune College has integrated the SI model, known as Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), into its programming since 2010. Hamadeh noted the demand for SI has grown. Initially the program started with three SI leaders, which has since increased to 14 SI leaders. He highlighted that PASS conducts regular scheduled peer leader-facilitated study groups in an informal setting. Attendance is voluntary and students can discuss course material, readings, forecast test material, discover effective study skills and compare notes. “Facilitated learning is the key to the program,” said Hamadeh.
Participants in the retreat were told that peer leaders go through a detailed hiring process and are required to be in good academic standing with the institution. Employment procedure consists of a solo interview, panel interview, role playing and ethics training. In recognition for their efforts, peer leaders are provided with a letter of reference and co-curricular record, and are hired into Work/Study positions to foster development of transferrable skills.
The SI program at York University continues to evolve, with a new wave of SI leaders working in collaboration with incoming students to develop lifelong skills while enhancing their first-year experience at York.
Submitted by Sunera Ali, student ambassador in the Division of Students
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