Study Success, UNC’s Peer-To-Peer Tutorial Services Consistently Improves Course Grades
October 10, 2022
A resource provided to University of Northern Colorado undergraduate students since the 70s has proven to help with course grades. Located on the lower level of Michener Library in L149 is the Tutorial Services office where fellow classmates provide peer-tutoring and academic skill sessions for 130 subjects.
“We’re kind of a hidden gem. People don’t realize the services that are available until they really need us,” said Melissa Hoffner ‘02, M.A., the director of Tutorial Services.
Hoffner would rather the value of the program be well-known though as she sees student after student feel empowered and ready to succeed in the classroom after taking advantage of the resource.
“It’s a less intimidating environment for students to learn in,” Hoffner said. “The students are getting compassion, patience and friendliness when they’re getting tutored making them feel understood.”
Hoffner understands why some students may have apprehension about reaching out for help, especially for first-year students experiencing college for the first time. She too was in those shoes.
“When I was a student here, I got involved with the Center for Human Enrichment program (CHE), which provided me with academic advising and tutoring. The funny thing is I didn’t think I needed tutoring at the time,” Hoffner said.
Instead, she wanted to prove to herself that she could get through higher education without the need for extra instruction. Looking back, that’s the one thing she says she would change.
“I want to get rid of the stigma surrounding tutoring and encourage students to take advantage of the services. I tell them all the time, don’t do what I did,” Hoffner said.
For the last two decades, helping students succeed in the classroom has been part of Hoffner’s career. Her first job began during her undergraduate studies, Hoffner landed a job in the computer lab assisting students with their work. She then began managing the lab while receiving her master's in social sciences and eventually moved to a full-time position as the facilitator of advising for CHE assisting first-generation students navigate the college environment. Finally in 2007, Hoffner took her experiences and applied them to her current role as the director of Tutorial Services.
The best part of her career, Hoffner says, is seeing a student gain confidence in themselves.
“One time a student liked the tutoring so much, he announced it to his class and asked who wanted to go back with him,” Hoffner said. “He ended up bringing in quite a few students with him after that, so that was exciting to see.”
Data backs up this testimonial. In fall 2020, Tutorial Services administration received a grant to measure the effectiveness of peer tutoring services. Grades for 423 students from spring 2018 to spring 2021, enrolled in Biology (BIO 110), Chemistry (CHEM 103 & 111), Algebra (MATH 124) and Calculus (MATH 131) using peer-tutoring were compared to 423 students who did not access peer-tutoring at Tutorial Services during the same time frame. Using two nonparametric tests, Mann-Whitney U and Spearman’s Rho, student’s grade averages between the two groups were compared to determine if using peer-tutoring at Tutorial Services resulted in higher grade averages than those who did not. The results found that the students who were tutored in their course, regardless of the number of visits, outperformed the students who did not.
“Some had minor improvements to their grades, some had significant, but regardless we found that students just walking through the doors helps,” Hoffner said.
UNC alumnus Alex Mazza ‘22 found success when he sought out peer-tutoring for his BIO 101 course as a freshman.
“My tutor helped instill confidence in me for my class. I got a better grade and a better understanding of it because of that tutor,” Mazza said.
Watch Alex Mazza '22 discuss his experience with UNC's Tutorial Services in the video above
Mazza, who received his bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences, appreciated the effort a fellow student put into helping him understand the course so much it inspired him to do the same. During his senior year, he tutored other UNC students.
“It’s one of the best experiences to watch a student progress,” Mazza said. “Sometimes just in an hour session, I could take a student from not understanding something at all to understanding it completely and applying it practically on their own.”
Mazza is one of many students who were tutored as freshmen and then took on the tutoring role when they became upper class students. Hoffner credits this as the key to tutorial services being so impactful.
“I am proud of the students I hire,” Hoffner said. “Many students just want a job but the ones I work with have passion and they want their fellow Bears to succeed and move forward. They genuinely do care.”
This year, there are 53 peer-tutors. Those students are required to have a 3.0 grade point average, have taken 30 credits or more, received an ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the discipline they want to tutor in and complete a certified training course.
Mazza says walking into Tutorial Services is one of the smartest decisions he made, and he hopes current students will do the same.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, we all need help at some point,” Mazza said. “College can be scary sometimes and the peer-tutors can help explain how the testing will go and different ways students can study. I believe asking for help is the first step in advancing your learning, making yourself a better student and a more confident individual.”
Tutorial Services peer-tutoring and supplemental instruction services are available to all undergraduate students and paid for through their student fees. Tutoring by appointment is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Michener Library room L149. Students can schedule an appointment online or walk-in. Night-time drop-in tutoring is available Monday through Thursday, 5-8 p.m., and Sunday evenings, 6-8 p.m., with no appointment necessary. Online tutoring is also available via Zoom for students unable to come in-person, or those who prefer that online tutoring format.
– written by Sydney Kern