The supplemental instruction program: student perceptions of the learning environment and impact on student academic achievement in college science at California State University, San Marcos

Higher education in science has been criticized and calls to increase student learning and persistence to degree has been recognized as a national problem by the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and the National Academy of Sciences. One mode of academic assistance that may directly address this issue is the implementation of Supplemental Instruction (SI) in science courses. SI is a specific model of academic assistance designed to help students in historically difficult science classes master course content, thus increasing their academic achievement and retention. This study assessed the SI program at California State University, San Marcos, in supported science courses. Specifically, academic achievement based on final course grades were compared between SI participating and nonparticipating students, multiple affective factors were measured at the beginning and end of the semester, and students' perceptions of the classroom and SI session learning environments recorded. Overall, students who attended five or more SI sessions achieved higher final course grades. Students who chose to participate in SI had higher initial levels of responsibility and anxiety. Additionally, SI participants experienced a reduction in anxiety over the semester whereas nonparticipants experienced an increase in anxiety from beginning to the end of the semester. The learning environment of SI embodies higher levels of constructivist principles of active learning such as cooperation, cohesiveness, innovation, and personalization -with one exception for the physics course, which is a based on problem-based learning. Structural equation modeling of variables indicates that high self-efficacy at the end of the semester is directly related to high final course grades; this is mediated by cohesion in the classroom and the cooperation evidenced in SI sessions. These findings are elaborated by student descriptions of what happened in SI sessions and discussed given the theoretical frameworks ofBandura's concept of selfefficacy and learning environment activities that embody constructivist principles.