SWAT programming arms students to achieve academic success
Nearly two years ago, the University of Iowa started a new program offering free academic support for all undergraduates. SWAT—Study, Workshops, and Tutoring—includes traditional tutoring options, Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions, and workshops designed to help students succeed both in and out of the classroom.
Supplemental Instruction is the biggest piece of the SWAT program. These small-group study sessions, held three to six times a week, are led by an undergraduate student who mastered a specific course (earned an A) in a previous semester, underwent training in effective learning and study strategies, and is now attending the course again and facilitating SI sessions.
During SI sessions, the student leaders help their peers master course content and build critical thinking and problem-solving skills by facilitating discussion about classroom lectures and required readings. Students actively participate in the sessions, working together to ask questions, discuss ideas, and solve problems together.
“High school often focuses on recall skills,” says Kate Sojka, director of new student programs in the UI Office of Retention. “In college, students are expected to use their analytical skills. Professors want them to learn a concept, then know how to apply that concept. Some students struggle because they don’t have those critical thinking skills developed. That’s what we’re trying to help them with.”
SI and SWAT tutoring focus on traditionally difficult academic courses, i.e., courses with a high rate of students who receive Ds or Fs or who withdraw from the course. Offerings vary each semester, depending on student and faculty demand, but often focus on courses with a heavy emphasis on math or science.
“We tell students, ‘If you see a free academic support service on campus, that’s a sign that it is a hard course or a hard subject to master, and these are services you should take advantage of just to stay on top of the material,’” Sojka says. “We offer these programs because we want students to succeed.”
Students can start attending SI or drop-in SWAT tutoring sessions anytime during the semester. But the earlier in the semester, the better.
“We have found that students who attend SI, even if it’s only once a week, usually will earn one letter grade higher than students who do not attend SI,” Sojka says. “We see a whole spectrum of students taking advantage of this service, from those who are really struggling, to A-plus students who want to really master the course.”
SI offers advantages to its student leaders, too. Many hope to go graduate school, and leading discussion sections is a good way to keep the concepts taught in these intro classes fresh. Plus, they get paid for the 10 hours per week that they work.
The third part of the SWAT program is a series of free workshops covering topics like goal setting, stress management, note-taking strategies, and how to overcome procrastination. The workshops are offered in partnership with University Counseling Service.