The College of Southern Nevada is extremely proud to share our work in the Academic Support arena, developing a strong Learning Commons model and quickly adapting it to a remote learning environment during the pandemic. Dr. Shellie Keller, Director of the Centers for Academic Success (CAS) at CSN, has led her team over the past several years to transition from delivering homework help to developing independent learners. This work involved the entire CAS team, all of whom participated in and contributed to professional development, research, program evaluation, and organizational redesign.
For context, it is important to know that CSN is the largest higher education institution in Nevada, serving more than 30,000 credit students and 15,000 noncredit students. We have three campuses and numerous satellite sites. Just a few years ago, students were navigating eleven different tutoring centers across the three campuses, all located in different buildings, and many being supported by various academic departments and inconsistent practices.
College leaders worked together to consolidate the various tutoring centers to create a Learning Commons model at each campus. This effort involved partnering not only with faculty, but also with our technology services, curriculum and scheduling, and facilities teams, identifying space adjacent to each campus open computer lab, and aligning staff from the two departments, allowing the college to offer additional tutoring hours seven days a week. This consolidation of resources also allowed us to hire a coordinator for each campus Learning Commons, fostering a consistent student experience at each campus – students now had a one-stop shop for academic assistance.
A true lifelong learner and champion of continuous improvement, Dr. Keller was also passionate about enhancing the tutoring model, developing tangible, measurable Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) that aligned the work of her CAS team with the student success and achievement goals of CSN’s Strategic Plan and the goals of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The CAS SLOs are linked to the following specific outcomes and measures:
Table 1: CAS Student Learning Outcomes
Persistence & Academic Achievement
CAS will help students engage with academic subjects using collaborative learning strategies. Through such engagement, students will demonstrate improved academic performance and persist to completion.
CAS will encourage effective study strategy use, problem solving, and academic discussion. Through this practice, students will demonstrate efficient critical thinking skills and effective study habits.
Knowledge Acquisition & Application
CAS will focus on collaborative learning and basic tools for academic success. Students will demonstrate understanding and application of academic subjects during and outside of tutoring sessions.
CAS will engage students in dialogue, use collaborative learning techniques, and encourage self-reflection and metacognitive strategy use.
Table 2: Persistence & Academic Achievement Outcomes & Measures
Measure of Success
Persistence (non-CAS vs. CAS)
Fall 18 to Spring 19 (65.7% vs. 79.8%); Fall 19 to Spring 20 (76.8% vs. 90.3%)
FTIC Students Successful Completion of College Level Math & English (non-CAS vs. CAS)
Fall 18 to Spring 19 (full-time 47% vs. 71%) (part-time 30% vs. 46%); Fall 19 to Spring 20 (full-time 40.5% vs. 69.6%) (part-time 26.3% vs. 40%)
FTIC Course Success (non-CAS vs. CAS)
Fall 18 to Spring 19 (69.2% vs. 83.4%); Fall 19 to Spring 20 (69.8% vs. 85.3%)
Unearned F’s (non-CAS vs. CAS)
Fall 18 to Spring 19 (13.4% vs. 3.9%); Fall 19 to Spring 20 (12.4% vs. 3%)
For many years tutoring centers across the country used tutoring usage and grades as measures for academic achievement and success. CSN’s CAS was no different. The college supported free and unlimited appointment-based and drop-in tutoring. The underlying assumption was that unlimited support would positively impact student persistence and academic achievement. Our attention was heavily weighted on counting total visits and increasing usage. Using data to determine that we were not effectively assisting our students, CAS changed its mission to create independent learners, with first-year students as the target population.
The team started by looking at grades for specific classes – those courses in which students typically engaged with tutoring and those courses in which students typically did not participate in CAS-facilitated tutoring; the team identified areas for improvement, initially zeroing in on challenging science courses, and began looking for solutions.
To address students’ difficulty with science subject matter, CAS adopted the Supplemental Instruction strategy, following the University of Missouri Kansas City model. The program was introduced on a small scale to start and has been assessed each term since 2015.
Data showed that students who regularly received at least three supplemental instruction experiences attained significantly higher scores on exams equivalent to a full letter grade; additionally, these students withdrew less frequently, had higher pass rates, and were more successful in their future classes than students who did not regularly receive Supplemental Instruction (SI). Fundamentals of Life Science (BIOL-189) – a high-stakes course for students who are pursuing limited-entry health sciences programs – was the first course with SI at CSN. After implementation of SI in BIOL-189, pass rates increased from 53.4% in Fall 2015 to 70.2% in Spring 2021. Since implementation of SI in the next biology course in the required sequence, BIOL-223, pass rates increased from 55% in Spring 2018 to 68.2% in Fall 2020. Pass rates for students who completed BIOL-189 with SI versus pass rates for those who completed BIOL-189 without SI are demonstrated below.
Table 3: Biology 223 Pass Rates for Biology 189 with SI vs. without SI
BIOL 223 Pass Rate with
BIOL 223 Pass Rate without BIOL-189 SI
SI was a catalyst for restructuring CAS services. SI enhances peer-to-peer engagement and student learning and development. It is an innovative way to provide support to students in traditionally challenging academic courses. Because of the early successes with SI, the CAS team expanded the use of SI methods to other courses, and then integrated the strategies and methods into all-staff training. Today, the full tutoring program array is designed to use SI strategies and methods to ensure an interactive student learning experience, and all staff are trained to utilize this approach.
Another poignant team observation was that CSN’s tutoring services were unintentionally designed to increase dependency on our tutors rather than to create independent learners. Through assessment, the team began to see that student confidence levels and course completion were not improving through increased usage of tutoring services, so, again, the CAS team examined institutional and national data and sought out professional development to better understand our students and to learn best practices. As a result of these efforts, the CAS team developed a program to ensure consistent practices in individual and group sessions. All sessions are now designed with spaced repetition methodology embedded into the process. For example, all students engage with a tutor for 30-40 minutes and then practice concepts on their own prior to engaging in another tutoring session. The program is designed to improve student learning and development rather than simply to help with homework.
By 2020, the entire reorganization was complete – all tutoring was offered in the Learning Commons on each campus seven days per week. Consistent hours were set. Consistent services were offered at each site.
And then came the pandemic.
In response to COVID-19 and going remote, CAS quickly developed online tutoring services by way of our Canvas Learning Management System and continued to enhance student support offerings despite the change in delivery modality. Through diversified offerings and partnerships with Smarthinking as well as various CSN departments in academic affairs and student affairs, CAS began delivering online tutoring and continues to deliver online as well as in-person services to make learning support more accessible. SI leaders are embedded online with faculty and students in Canvas course shells, and tutoring services are promoted and offered in the same environment. Study sessions are offered in Canvas Conferences to first-year English and math students and in high-risk STEM courses. CAS math and writing centers are on each campus and now online. First-year students are in a Canvas learning environment with faculty and tutors and can engage in drop-in conferences with tutors. CAS tutors are also added to The First Year Experience Canvas shell to assist students with learning strategies and support.
The CAS team developed an evidence-based reorganization and redesign of services that centralized tutoring support, implemented best practices to better meet the needs of students, and provided a consistent, campus-based tutoring model to support CSN’s student success and achievement goals. The results thus far have been remarkable, and these efforts are indeed replicable. The CSN team would be pleased to share our approach and strategies with other institutions who might benefit.
Thanks again to the Northwest Commission for honoring CSN and our Centers for Academic Success team with the Beacon Award, and for providing this opportunity to share our work and celebrate our achievements as we strive to empower our students to achieve, succeed, and prosper.
Navigate the articles below, or go to the current Beacon directory.