Gadsden State Community College assesses the impact of Smarthinking online tutoring among students in an online, accelerated, co-requisite Writing Lab course
- Students received detailed feedback from Smarthinking writing tutors and showed improvement on subsequent essay drafts.
- Writing Lab Instructor Heather Greene stated that requiring students to engage with academic tutoring resources was a healthful exercise.
- Fully 36 percent of students who completed an end-of-semester survey reported that they used Smarthinking or Writing Center tutors without being asked to; the same number expressed interest in using outside tutors in the future.
Gadsden State Community College, Gadsden, AL
Administrators and faculty
Cheryl Cephus-Vickers, Associate Dean of Student Services, Director of Counseling Services and Advisement
Janekia Mitchell, Academic Advisor/Counselor
Heather Greene, Instructor
Results reported by
Lauren Gill, Senior Results Manager, Readiness, Progression, & Employability
Gadsden State Community College is a public, open-enrollment, comprehensive community college dedicated to meeting the changing needs of citizens in its service area. It offers the first two years of a four-year degree, a number of technical and certificate programs, and non-credit programs that include continuing education, skills training, and adult education.
Challenges and Goals
Gadsden State introduced the Writing Lab course as a co-requisite for Basic English and English Composition in fall 2014. Students who meet the threshold requirement (COMPASS Writing score of 55-61) are encouraged to enroll in the 1-credit Writing Lab. This accelerated path allows students to bypass the traditional 3-course writing sequence, saving time and financial resources. The lab consists of individual instruction on mechanics through email exchanges and individual tutoring on major essay assignments required by Basic English and English Composition instructors.
Instructor Heather Greene says, “I really love the Writing Lab as a co-req for Basic English and English Composition. It’s a tremendous confidence booster for our students because it says, ‘Hooray, you’re out of Developmental Studies!’ We counsel students that they will have to do a little more work but that it will be worth it. They save time by replacing a 3-course sequence with a single course-plus-lab. And it makes sense financially, too!”
In fall 2015, Gadsden State Community College partnered with Pearson to evaluate Smarthinking online tutoring usage in a pilot section of Writing Lab. Students were directed to use either Campus Writing Center tutors or Smarthinking tutors—but both groups were encouraged to seek out help from all available resources. Requiring students to access tutoring help beyond their instructor was intended to increase students’ chance for success in Writing Lab and in the corequisite Basic English or English Composition course. In addition, the project sought to evaluate:
- If students would seek out help beyond their course requirements
- If students required to use the Writing Center would visit more than required or would seek out Smarthinking tutor help
- If students required to use Smarthinking would also seek out the Writing Center
- Student feedback on both the Writing Center and Smarthinking
Instructor Heather Greene divided her online section of Writing Lab into two groups of ten students each: Team Cardinals were required to submit four essay drafts in person to the Campus Writing Center tutors for feedback; Team Ravens were required to submit four essay drafts online to the Smarthinking writing tutors.
Instructor Greene notes, “I taught this course in a face-to-face format when we first offered it in fall 2014. I look at every course for ways to improve. So, for fall 2015, I was enthusiastic about evaluating the impact of requiring students to access either online or on-campus tutoring help as a component of Writing Lab. “
To pass Writing Lab, students must complete all of their Writing Lab assignments and participate regularly in class discussions and activities like peer review. Students must also complete all of their Basic English or English Composition assignments satisfactorily. Failure to complete the other English course in which the student is enrolled results in an automatic failing grade for Writing Lab.
Results and Data
- 55% passed
- 35% unsatisfactory
- 10% withdrew
I feel strongly that requiring students to access online or direct tutoring assistance is a very healthful exercise. Because it was a course requirement, we had 100 percent participation. If it had been a mere recommendation, far fewer students would have ventured outside their comfort zones to access tutoring help. Students in the pilot formed a new habit of seeking assistance—and that new habit may help them survive and thrive throughout their college experience.Instructor Heather Greene
What went well
Greene states, “I was really pleased with the detailed feedback students received from Smarthinking writing tutors. Students using the Writing Center had the opportunity to have individualized writing tutoring from qualified instructors. Students provided overall positive feedback about both assignments. I feel strongly that requiring students to access online or direct tutoring assistance is a very healthful exercise. Because it was a course requirement, we had 100 percent participation. If it had been a mere recommendation, far fewer students would have ventured outside their comfort zones to access tutoring help. Students in the pilot formed a new habit of seeking assistance—and that new habit may help them survive and thrive throughout their college experience.”
What could be improved
Greene says, “Writing Center tutors reported that some students simply wanted the form signed without the required assistance.”
The Student Experience
At the end of the semester, fourteen out of the remaining eighteen students participated in a survey about their course experience. Students overall reported a high level of satisfaction with the course and with their online or on-campus tutoring experience. Fully 100 percent of the participating students said they would recommend the Writing Lab course to a friend.
Three students said they took advantage of the Writing Center without being assigned to do so. Three expressed interest in going to the Center in the future.
Two students said they used Smarthinking without being assigned to do so. Two expressed interest in using the program in the future.
Sample student comments:
- “The Writing Center was helpful because my essays were reviewed by someone who is more knowledgeable in that area, even though I did not enjoy having to go.”
- “I think Ms. Greene was an awesome instructor; she encouraged us to use Smarthinking—it helped me a lot.”
- “I was first assigned to the Writing Center but then moved to Smarthinking because it worked better for me.”
- “I was assigned to Smarthinking. The assignments were easy and very helpful in helping me understand my English Composition class.”
Smarthinking was helpful because the tutor gave me feedback on my essay; I corrected the [errors] and made a better grade.
In this pilot study, both the instructor and the students reported appreciation for the detailed feedback students received from the Smarthinking tutors. Fully 36 percent of students who completed the end-of-semester survey reported that they intended to access outside tutoring resources in subsequent courses.
After reviewing the results of the pilot study, Gadsden leadership decided to pursue a broader impact study. This broader study, now underway, will examine the impact of Smarthinking online tutoring on student success, persistence, and completion institution-wide.