Student Success Center Shifts Services Online To Help Comets Make the Grade Remotely

Students at The University of Texas at Dallas who seek academic support to be successful can access from home the resources they need from the Student Success Center (SSC).

The center’s staff and student leaders this spring transitioned their face-to-face academic support operation to digital services. The center offers peer tutoring, supplemental instruction, peer-led team learning, a writing center, communications lab, academic coaching and the Institute for Peer Mentoring workshops.

About 180 of the 200 peer tutors opted in to continue working for the center with adjusted schedules and roles in the remote setting. Their dedication paid off: The center’s units logged more than 6,250 virtual visits between tutors and fellow students.

“We knew we had the workforce. We just needed the model,” said Dr. Julie Murphy, director of the SSC.

As each unit worked to move online, staff looked at various platforms — including channels on Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings. They spread the word by letting faculty know and sending emails to students who were studying remotely after spring break.

“We are a place that provides security for students who struggle with getting a concept. When you can’t have personal contact, you still want them to have a sense of security. Our staff is still here,” Murphy said.

Peer Tutoring

Continuing peer tutoring was a challenge because drop-in tutoring was not able to be implemented with such a short turnaround transition, program manager Kelli Hickey said. Students were particularly dismayed by the loss of drop-in tutoring.

“Students do not always know in advance if they will need help with a question or concept until they are working on it at that moment,” she said. “The challenges we faced included getting the information about continued services to students virtually, figuring out which technology the tutors had at home, and finding the best platform for collaborative tutoring for both the student and the tutor.”

Tutors began accepting appointments for specific subjects with students. Students could schedule up to 24 hours in advance and have up to three appointments each week. More than 560 visits were recorded.

An added feature was a Qualtrics form that students could use to submit problems or questions about concepts for which they needed help. Tutors would send back solutions and resources for students. This option was made available for students who would not have the time to make an appointment or could not make an appointment.

This week, the center began offering virtual drop-in tutoring for about 40 courses, and UT Dallas staff members will continue video appointments for about 15 courses.

“Reaching students virtually is a necessity since we are not able to physically help students, and yet our educational mission has not been suspended,” Hickey said.

“It is hard to fully replicate the in-person experience, but we are offering a variety of options for our students. We believe that the mission of success centers — to deliver personalized, small-scale learning interactions with a peer — is essential for driving value to students in a virtual environment.”

Michael Saenz, assistant director of the Student Success Center

Peer-Led Team Learning

Laila Alkassar, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, led one of the peer-led team learning (PLTL) units. She was able to share her material for General Chemistry I on Microsoft Teams.

“It was important to continue being there for our students to support them in their academic goals,” Alkassar said. “My team and I learned to focus on meeting the students where they are. This meant asking the students where they felt they were in the class and catering our video calls to meet their needs and pace, while staying consistent with the lecture.”

She said that while she missed seeing students in person, many students were grateful for the peer-led sessions. Nearly 3,050 visits were logged by PLTL, although it will not be offered during the summer.

“They were able to meet weekly to see friendly faces and keep up with their quarantine updates. I was grateful for the patience and resilience that my students and peer leaders showed during this transition, and I am happy we were able to continue supporting our fellow students — even at a distance,” Alkassar said.

Writing Center

Mallory Matyk, program manager for the Writing Center, said the biggest challenge for her unit was making sure the student peer leaders were prepared to offer support online as they transitioned from in-person appointments. The Writing Center offers one-on-one support for students needing help with any class writing project.

“We offered limited virtual appointments previously, so we had to bring everyone up to speed quickly. Thankfully, our peer leaders want to serve the UTD community, so they were eager to learn and prepare themselves for the challenge,” Matyk said.

About 192 student visits were scheduled online. Students submitted their papers and highlighted any areas where they thought they needed assistance. Peer leaders received the submissions and provided feedback for the students.

The CommLab, which provides students feedback and resources for improving oral and group presentations, also expanded its virtual options. Students could make an appointment online and submit their outline, script or a video of their speech. Peer leaders would get the submission and provide feedback for the student.

“I was just so grateful that our peer leaders remained committed to serving the students and that the students found us and booked appointments and kept coming back,” Matyk said.

Michael Saenz, assistant director of the center, said the value of continued support is more important than ever in helping students succeed academically and stay socially engaged.

“It is hard to fully replicate the in-person experience, but we are offering a variety of options for our students,” Saenz said. “We believe that the mission of success centers — to deliver personalized, small-scale learning interactions with a peer — is essential for driving value to students in a virtual environment.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].