GEMS Strategy Foresees Strength in Numbers

Group Learning Concepts to Help with Difficult Math and Science Material

March 4, 2008

By now, many students, faculty and staff are aware that improving student performance in freshman calculus and chemistry is a primary focus of Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science, or GEMS.

A key component of the GEMS plan includes a dedicated lab and learning space that will support Supplemental Instruction and Peer-Led Team Learning, as well as computer-aided instruction for calculus and chemistry sections.  It will be a place for students to receive tutoring, mentoring and general assistance with their math and science courses.

The goal is for the lab, or GEMS Math and Science Success Center, to be available for students as soon as this fall.

SI and PLTL

At UT Dallas, Supplemental Instruction, or SI, is an academic support program that provides assistance to students in historically difficult classes.

The newer Peer-Led Team Learning, or PLTL, initiative will place students in small groups, or communities of no more than 10 scholars, where learning and success will be a shared endeavor. 

At its core, SI is simple:  Students learn to integrate course content and study skills working together in a group. SI leaders facilitate these regularly scheduled sessions. These leaders are students who have performed well in the classes previously. They receive vigorous training, attend lectures, read assigned materials and take notes as if they were enrolled in the courses themselves.  They use this preparation to lead three out-of-class SI sessions per week.

SI is a non-remedial approach to learning since the program targets high-risk courses rather than high-risk students.  All students are encouraged to attend the free SI sessions.

Joining the University's expansion of SI is the PLTL group-learning plan. With PLTL, learning is a shared endeavor. Every student’s active participation is required for the group to succeed. Once a student begins with a PLTL group, attendance is mandatory.

“The UT Dallas PLTL is unique to GEMS; it’s about learning enhancement,” explained Abby Kratz, assistant provost for academic affairs.  “It’s about the quality of the UT Dallas experience, and we’ve chosen to develop it in an academic way that is separate from — but complementary with — SI.”

History of the Concepts

SI was created in 1973 by Dr. Deanna C. Martin of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, when Martin was asked to find a way to decrease the attrition rate of minority students in the schools of medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.
 
Following a rigorous review process in 1981, the SI program became one of the few postsecondary initiatives to be designated by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary program.  Today, faculty and staff from more than 1,500 institutions from 29 countries have been trained to implement their own SI programs.

SI has been at UT Dallas since approximately1995.

PLTL, a newer concept in peer-assisted learning, started at the City College of New York in the early 1990s. 

Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science, or GEMS, is a comprehensive plan that emerged from a campus-wide conversation about ways to enhance the learning experiences of UT Dallas students.  One of the suggestions was to make strategic changes to introductory math and science courses.  A 16-member council of faculty, staff and students selected this idea as the one with the greatest potential to enhance student learning and achievement, and GEMS was born.  GEMS is the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, and it will be implemented over the next five years.


Media contact:  Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, jennib@utdallas.edu
More on GEMS: Visit www.utdallas.edu/GEMS

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