STEM Seminar

December 6, 2016 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
EXPL 3301
Rebecca Jones

“Exploring the value of peer-supported learning in undergraduate chemistry: A comparison of learning assistants and a tutoring center”

Speaker:  Rebecca Jones

On average each semester, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at George Mason University instructs over 1700 students, of which only 15% are majors. Gateway courses such as General and Organic chemistry have very high DFW rates and are notoriously known as “weed-out” courses. As the lecture sections tend to be very large (150-300 students) and lack a supportive recitation, the department has utilized two mechanisms to help improve student performance. Beginning in 2000, with support from the College of Science, the department allocated space and began staffing an in-house tutoring center providing walk-in assistance for general and organic chemistry students. In Fall 2012, the faculty also began working with Learning Assistants (LAs) and now regularly utilize 8-12 LAs per semester in a variety of courses. Since these initiatives have become a part of the department culture, questions have arisen about which intervention is most helpful. In an effort to address these questions, we collected individual records of student interactions with Learning Assistants and the Tutoring Center in Fall 2015 and Spring 2106. These records have been correlated to student grades. Results show that interactions with the Learning Assistants are considerably more frequent and valuable than the Tutoring Center. This presentation will summarize the comparisons made between the different student populations, including those who did not seek any external assistance, and identifies directions for future inquiry.