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     Access at the Crossroads Blog

    These blog entires identify best practices to increase success for historically-underrepresented college students including excerpts from my book, Access at the CrossroadsClick here to subscribe to this blog.


    Students helping students: Evaluating a pilot program of peer teaching for an undergraduate course in human anatomy.

    Bruno, P. A., Love Green, J. K., Illerbrun, S. L., Holness, D. A., Illerbrun, S. J., Haus, K. A., & Sveinson, K. L. (2015). Students helping students: Evaluating a pilot program of peer teaching for an undergraduate course in human anatomy. Anatomical Sciences Education. doi: doi:10.1002/ase.1543. Retrieved from

    The educational literature generally suggests that Supplemental Instruction (SI) is effective in improving academic performance in traditionally difficult courses. A pilot program of peer teaching based on the SI model was implemented for an undergraduate course in human anatomy. Students in the course were stratified into three groups based on the number of peer teaching sessions they attended: nonattendees (0 sessions), infrequently attended (1-3 sessions), and frequently attended (_ 4 sessions). After controlling for academic preparedness [i.e., admission grade point average (AGPA)] using an analysis of covariance, the final grades of frequent attendees were significantly higher than those of nonattendees (P50.025) and infrequent attendees (P50.015). A multiple regression analysis was performed to estimate the relative independent contribution of several variables in predicting the final grade. The results suggest that frequent attendance (b50.245,P50.007) and AGPA (b50.555, P<0.001) were significant positive predictors, while being a first-year student (b520.217, P50.006) was a significant negative predictor. Collectively, these results suggest that attending a certain number of sessions may be required to gain a noticeable benefit from the program, and that first-year students (particularly those with a lower level of academic preparedness) would likely stand to benefit from maximally using the program. End-of-semester surveys and reports indicate that the program had several additional benefits, both to the students taking the course and to the students who served as program leaders.

    To download the complete annotated bibliography of more than 1,100 citations of postsecondary peer cooperative learning programs, click on the following link,


    The impact of Supplemental Instruction on the performance of male and female engineers in a freshmen chemistry course.

    Wisniewski, E. O., Shapiro, R. L., Kaeli, E., Coletti, K. B., DiMilla, P. A., & Reisberg, R. (2015). The impact of Supplemental Instruction on the performance of male and female engineers in a freshmen chemistry course. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual 122nd Conference, Seattle, WA. Retrieved from

    This study used statistical analysis to examine correlations between first year engineering students’ use of SI and their performance in a required general chemistry course at Northeastern University. Overall we found that students who used SI were more motivated in General Chemistry than their counterparts. We also draw the following specific conclusions from our data: Students who were more confident that they would receive a high grade in General Chemistry at the beginning of the course had a higher average grade threshold for seeking SI. Students who sought SI exhibited a positive correlation between grade threshold for seeking help outside the classroom and final grade received. Females who used SI had significantly higher grades than females who did not.  SI in the form of Chem Central, the Connections Chemistry Review, and the COE Tutoring Office were all found to have the potential to have a significant positive impact on students’ grades. Students who did not use SI were significantly more likely to skip lecture than students who do attend SI. Increased absenteeism in lecture was associated with lower final grades in both fall 2013 and fall 2014. Females were more likely to attend lecture regularly than males. When extra credit incentives were offered to attend lecture, both genders skipped significantly fewer lectures and received significantly higher grades.  We believe the results we have found regarding relationships between students’ use of SI and their success in General Chemistry for Engineers can be applied to improve SI across the freshman engineering curriculum. For example, as Chem Central, the Connections Chemistry Review, and the COE tutoring office were all found to have a positive impact on students’ grades, resources like these could be created to help freshman students in their other courses. Further study of possible interaction effects among these and other variables for which we have data are ongoing. Our results also show that the students who often skip lecture are the students who do not take advantage of resources for SI and receive lower course grades. These may be students who need additional advising and mentoring during their freshman year in order to succeed. The issues raised are important topics of focus for future work in order to gain a further understanding of the impact of SI on freshman engineering students.

    To download the annotated bibliography of more than 1,100 citations of postsecondary peer cooperative learning programs, click the following link,


    Online Peer Assisted Learning: Reporting on practice

    Watts, H., Makis, M., & Billingham, O. (2015). Online Peer Assisted Learning: Reporting on practice. Journal of Peer Learning, 8(1), 85-104. Retrieved from

    Peer Assisted learning (PAL) in-class is well-established and flourishing in higher education across the globe; nevertheless, interest is growing in online versions and is reflected by a number of pilot schemes. These programs have responded to perceived and actual needs of students and institutions; they have explored the available software packages and have begun to create a bank of learning through academic publications, institutional reports, evaluations, and SINET listserv discussions. This paper examines existing online PAL practice from Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA, and focuses on synchronous modes. We discuss (a) the context, mode, and scope of online PAL, and (b) implementation considerations. Despite some “teething problems” of these pilots we are convinced by the early and so far limited explorations highlighted here that online PAL can make a significant contribution to learners in higher education by improving engagement through the flexibility afforded by the online space.

    To download the complete annotated bibliography of more than 1,100 citations of postsecondary peer cooperative learning programs, click on the following link,


    History of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education: 1970s through Mid-1990s Part Two

    This excerpt is from monograph, Access at the Crossroads.  The history of learning assistance and developmental education is often ignored and misunderstood, especially by policymakers as they revise and restrict academic access programs.  This excerpt is part two of the time period between 1970s through mid-1990s.  For more information about my monograph, click the box in the left column.

    Rise of the Professional Associations

    The 1980s witnessed the birth of several national associations serving profes­sionals in the field of learning assistance, coinciding with the explosive growth in college enrollment and number of public postsecondary institutions, espe­cially community colleges. Institutions expanded their teaching staff for reme­dial and developmental courses. The exponential growth of learning assistance centers required a new category of college employees. These new profession­als needed organizations that met needs for postsecondary education rather than older organizations devoted to serving educators in elementary and sec­ondary education. They needed to increase their professionalism and provide venues for conversation with colleagues and experienced leaders in learning assistance. The new organizations provided a supportive community for new professionals who might be isolated on campus and were sometimes stigma­tized because of their association with learning assistance programs.

    Established in 1952, the Southwest Reading Conference, later renamed the National Reading Conference, was first to serve postsecondary educators in this field. The College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA, previously named the Western College Reading Association and later the Western Col­lege Reading and Learning Association) was founded in 1966. The CRLA pub­lishes a quarterly newsletter, annual conference proceedings, and the biannual Journal of College Reading and Learning. Conferences are held annually at national venues and at CRLA-affiliated chapters throughout the United States. The focus of the CRLA was clearly postsecondary education. Previously, learning assistance personnel had few options for professional development other than from other organizations with a predominately elementary and secondary edu­cation focus such as the International Reading Association. The CRLA and the other learning assistance associations that followed it provided an identity and a place for postsecondary learning assistance professionals to gather and exchange information.

    Following passage of national legislation creating the federal TRIO programs for first-generation and economically disadvantaged students, political advocacy was essential to expand financial and stable support for these programs. During the early 1970s, regional professional associations created by TRIO staff mem­bers represented their interests for increased national funding and provided pro­fessional development services for themselves. Clark Chipman, a regional USDOE higher education administrator for the Upper Midwest, was a key leader for development of the first TRIO association. It was called the Mid-American Association for Educational Opportunity Program Personnel. After­wards, nine additional regional associations formed across the United States. In 1981 Clark Chipman and Arnold Mitchem coordinated efforts of preceding regional associations to influence national policy through creation of the National Council of Educational Opportunity Associations. In 1988 the association changed its name to the Council on Opportunity in Education (Grout, 2003).

    The National Association for Developmental Education (NADE, initially named the National Association for Remedial/Developmental Studies in Post­secondary Education) was founded in 1976. Because of uncertainty about what would become the more widely adopted term, both “remedial” and “developmental” were included in the association’s original name. In 1981 the NADE contracted with the National Center for Developmental Education to provide the Journal of Developmental Education as a membership benefit and official journal of the association. The NARDSPE changed its name to the NADE in 1984.

    A variety of other professional associations were born in the 1990s. The National College Learning Center Association provided professional development for learning center directors. The National Tutoring Association served educators from higher education, secondary education, and private indi­viduals engaged in tutoring. The Association for the Tutoring Profession was created for similar purposes. The Council for Learning Assistance and Devel­opmental Education Associations (initially named the American Council of Developmental Education Associations) began in 1996 to serve as a forum for these professional associations to meet and engage in cooperative activities, information sharing, and networking.

    The growth of these organizations signified historically that learning assis­tance was becoming more complex, employing more professionals, and needed professional associations focused on their special needs in higher education. Large established organizations such as the International Reading Association, Conference on College Composition and Communication, and American Mathematical Society generally provided special interest groups for postsec­ondary learning assistance professionals. They missed the opportunity, how­ever, to fully meet the needs of the professionals who preferred the smaller and more narrowly focused learning assistance associations. This situation led to duplication of services among the larger content-focused organizations and the smaller learning assistance associations. It also may have led to increased stigma for the learning assistance professionals, as they did not become mem­bers and attend the conferences of the larger organizations that attracted membership of mainstream college faculty and staff members. It was another way that some learning assistance professionals stood apart from the main­stream in higher education.

    Support Systems for Leaders and Practitioners

    Several other national organizations, graduate education programs, and publi­cations have contributed to the history of the learning assistance community. A three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation established the National Cen­ter for Developmental Education (NCDE) in 1976. Two years later NCDE began publishing The Journal of Developmental Education (initially named Jour­nal of Developmental and Remedial Education). Review of Research in Develop­mental Education was another NCDE publication; created in 1983, it focused on current research in the field. Since 1980 the center has also hosted the Kellogg Institute for the Training and Certification of Developmental Educators.

    During this period, a variety of formal and informal systems of professional development for learning assistance were established. Practitioners in the field previously relied on degree programs for elementary and secondary education. Secondary educators teaching reading, English, and mathematics staffed many of the learning assistance centers and taught developmental courses in post­secondary institutions.

    New graduate programs also emerged to equip learning center profession­als at the college level rather than relying on preparation for secondary schools. The first graduate programs in developmental education (M.A. and Ed.S.) began at Appalachian State University in 1972. Grambling State University (Louisiana) in 1986 offered the nation’s first doctoral program (Ed.D.). National Louis University (Chicago), Texas State University at San Marcos, and the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (Minneapolis) also established learning assistance graduate certificate or degree programs during this period. Collectively these advanced degrees contributed to the professionalization and ability to meet student needs by learning assistance faculty and staff members. A major challenge with the national impact of these programs is that they are few in number and many current learning assistance professionals find it dif­ficult to relocate them to meet residency requirements and to secure funds for tuition. An expansion of distance learning pedagogies for the degree programs would permit easier access for graduate students who are place bound and unable to participate in long required residency stays at the degree-granting institutions.


    Reaping what you sow: How the University of Bedfordshire uses experienced Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) students to inspire and nurture future generations of PAL leaders. 

    Rapley, E. (2015). Reaping what you sow: How the University of Bedfordshire uses experienced Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) students to inspire and nurture future generations of PAL leaders. Journal of Pedagogic Development, 5(2). Retrieved from

    As staff awareness and understanding of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) has continued to develop, a conscious decision has been made to hand over greater responsibility and ownership of PAL to the PAL Leader student team. PAL is based on the Supplemental Instruction (SI) model with a broader interest in holistic development of the students beyond just subject course competence.  The success of any PAL initiative rests upon the quality of the PAL Leaders who facilitate the sessions. Motivated, committed and enthusiastic PAL Leaders are key to ensuring that engaging and meaningful sessions are provided for first year students. With our mission to ensure PAL Leaders truly benefit and develop themselves during their tenure, it was felt that this transformation could only take place if PAL Leaders really had opportunities to step up and take ownership of PAL.

    To download the complete annotated bibliography of more than 1,100 citations on postsecondary peer cooperative learning programs, click on the following link,


    Exploring the possibility of introducing Supplemental Instruction at secondary school level.

    Naidoo, J., & Paideya, V. (2015). Exploring the possibility of introducing Supplemental Instruction at secondary school level. South African Journal of Education, 35(2), 1-10. doi: doi:10.15700/saje.v35n2a1022. Retrieved from

    Globally, mathematics and science pass rates at school level have been a much discussed and researched issue. Teachers are tasked with the responsibility of alleviating learners’ challenges associated with the learning of mathematics and science. Thus, teachers are pursuing innovative techniques for improving the understanding of and increasing the pass rates in mathematics and science. Academics in higher education have recognised that first year students experience difficulty with high-risk courses such as mathematics and science. One successful innovative strategy used at university level is Supplemental Instruction (SI). This is a peer support programme, which targets high-risk courses, and is aimed at developing subject-specific learning skills to foster independent learners, who will take responsibility for their own learning. This article explores the SI context at university level, with the aim of adapting this type of support programme at secondary school level. Data was collected via a questionnaire administered to selected academics, interviews with academics, as well as interviews with university students who have participated in SI sessions at university level. An analysis of the data suggests that schools may be able to adapt the SI model with the aim of assisting learners to develop key study skills to improve understanding in mathematics and science. This improved understanding of content could lead to an improvement in mathematics and science pass rates at secondary school level.

    To download the complete annotated bibliography of more than 1,100 citations on postseconeary peer cooperative learning programs, click on the following link,


    History of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education: 1970s through Mid-1990s Part One

    The following is an excerpt from my monograph, Access at the Crossroads.  This excerpt explores the often unexplored, misunderstood, or simply ignored history of learning assistance and developmental education.  For more information about my publication, click on the box in the left column.

    The fifth phase of postsecondary education history introduced new learning assistance non-credit-bearing activities and approaches, especially among pub­lic four-year institutions. A second feature of this phase was curtailment of remedial instruction that focused on high school students’ development of skills. Corresponding with that decrease, developmental courses that focused on the skill development required for college-level courses rapidly increased. Learning assistance built on past activities of tutoring and credit-bearing courses was replaced by learning assistance centers that served students from a wider range of academic ability.

    New forms of learning assistance emerged to serve students with low aca­demic preparation or those who had previously earned low grades in a college course. Previously, nearly all students experienced learning assistance. As the learning assistance model and student body changed, some participated and some did not. The college student body became more diverse with regard to economic, cultural, and academic preparation. Learning assistance grew more quickly at community colleges because they enrolled the largest numbers of underprepared students. Those who participated, especially those forced to participate because of mandatory placement in remedial or developmental courses, were more stigmatized.

    Learning Assistance

    In the early 1970s, learning assistance centers (LACs) were introduced (Arendale, 2004; Christ, 1971). Frank Christ at California State University–Long Beach developed the first LAC (then called the learning assistance support system) and was the first to use the technical term in the professional literature (Aren­dale, 2004). White and Schnuth (1990) identified a distinguishing character­istic of LACs: their comprehensive nature and mission in the institution. Rather than an exclusive focus on underprepared students, LACs extended services for all students and even faculty members. The center naturally extended the classroom with enrichment activities for all students.

    LACs, according to Christ, were comprehensive in their theoretical under­pinnings and services provided, compared with earlier reading labs and other forms of academic assistance. LACs shared a common mission: to meet the needs of students facing academic difficulty in a course and to provide supplemental and enrichment learning opportunities for any students at the institution. The reading labs worked only for students dealing with severe difficulty in reading. Students went to counseling centers only when they were having extreme aca­demic and emotional difficulties. The LACs served these students and the gen­eral student population as well. Therefore, no stigma was attached to the LACs. “[LACs] differed significantly from previous academic support services by intro­ducing concepts and strategies from human development, the psychology of learning, educational technology, and corporate management into an operational rationale specific to higher education; by functioning as a campus-wide support system in a centralized operational facility; by vigorously opposing any stigma that it was ‘remedial’ and only for inadequately prepared, provisionally admit­ted, or probationary students; and by emphasizing ‘management by objectives’ and a cybernetic subsystem of ongoing evaluation to elicit and use feedback from users for constant program modification” (Christ, 1997, pp. 1–2). Learning cen­ters avoided the remedial label that had stigmatized other forms of learning assis­tance. Although some institutions did not offer developmental courses, especially public four-year institutions, nearly all institutions accepted the challenge to offer learning assistance and enrichment services to all students.

    Various factors encouraged the rapid development of learning centers, which (1) applied technology for individualized learning; (2) responded to lowered admission standards; (3) focused on cognitive learning strategies;

    (4) increased student retention; and (5) were perceived to enrich learning for all students, regardless of their previous level of academic performance (Enright, 1975). The LAC was a catalyst for improved learning across the campus. Rather than continuing the previous practice of preparatory programs and remedial courses that were often outside the heart of the college, these centers contributed to the core institutional mission (Hultgren, 1970; Kerstiens, 1972). Faculty members often recognized these centers as extensions of the classroom and encouraged their use for deeper mastery of college-level mate­rial. “The resource center does not define the goals of the learning it supports; it accepts the goals of the faculty and the students” (Henderson, Melloni, and Sherman, 1971, p. 5). LACs were consolidated, and centralized operations were housed in a single location on campus. All students—not just those expe­riencing academic difficulty—benefited from a LAC’s services. LACs provided a model for learning and teaching centers established at some U.S. colleges beginning in the 1980s that assisted students and faculty members. Those cen­ters supported students’ mastery of rigorous academic content material and faculty professional development.

    As mentioned, LACs were sometimes integrated into campuswide student retention initiatives. Organizations such as the Noel-Levitz centers have acknowledged a variety of learning assistance programs by recognizing increased student persistence (Noel-Levitz Center, 2010). A LAC that includes this objec­tive as part of its mission is at Lees-McRae College (Banner Elk, North Car­olina). The Division of Student Success ( StudentSuccess/) hosts traditional learning assistance services. It also provides additional services supporting student retention by housing the Office of Stu­dents with Disabilities, the First Year Experience Program, summer orienta­tion, and student retention services for students placed on academic probation. Learning assistance is bundled with other campus services and guided by the campus student retention plan. Sometimes these bundled efforts also support persistence in college majors in academically challenging areas such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).

    Developmental Education

    Beginning in the 1970s, “developmental education” emerged as another term used to describe the field of learning assistance. This term borrowed concepts from the field of college student personnel. An underlying assumption was that all college students were developing throughout their college career. “The notion of developmental sequence is the kingpin of developmental theory.... A goal of education is to stimulate the individual to move to the next stage in the sequence” (Cross, 1976, p. 158). This perspective returned learning assis­tance to its historic roots by focusing on the entire student population.

    Proponents of developmental education viewed it as a more comprehen­sive model because it focused on personal development of the academic and affective domains (Boylan, 1995b; Casazza and Silverman, 1996; Hashway, 1988; Higbee, 2005; Higbee and Dwinell, 1998). This value-added or talent development perspective assumed each student possessed skills or knowledge that could be further developed. Cross expressed the differences between reme­dial and developmental education in the following way: “If the purpose of the program is to overcome academic deficiencies, I would term the program remedial, in the standard dictionary sense in which remediation is concerned with correcting weaknesses. If, however, the purpose of the program is to develop the diverse talents of students, whether academic or not, I would term the program developmental. Its mission is to give attention to the fullest pos­sible development of talent and to develop strengths as well as to correct weak­nesses” (Cross, 1976, p. 31).

    Access Programs

    Thus far this review of learning assistance has focused on its use in the United States. Tutorial programs and the earlier dame schools were common learning assistance approaches in Europe. During this period, the United Kingdom developed a new approach for learning assistance called “access programs.”

    Unlike the system in the United States, higher education in most other countries was coordinated, funded, and evaluated by the national government. The United Kingdom employed a different approach and terminology to meet the needs of students who were academically underprepared during the late 1970s. Two organizations in particular provided leadership—the European Access Network ( and the Institute for Access Stud­ies ( Most postsecondary institu­tions in the United Kingdom offered student services similar to those in the United States, including advising, counseling, disability services, orientation, mentoring, and tutoring (Thomas, Quinn, Slack, and Casey, 2003). Students with additional needs for developmental courses were required to complete a perquisite certificate offered through the access program.

    One noticeable difference between the United States and the United Kingdom was length of academic terms of remedial or developmental courses.  The United Kingdom organized these courses into a unit called an “access pro­gram.” These programs were located in a postsecondary institution or an adult education center operated independently in the local community. Admission to a college or university depended on successful completion of the one-year program, which also resulted in a certificate of completion. Although some similarities existed between access programs in the United Kingdom and aca­demic preparatory programs in the United States, an important difference between the two countries was that U.S. colleges were more likely to admit students who had less academic preparation than were those in the United Kingdom. U.S. institutions were more willing to admit students to determine whether they could benefit from the college experience, while U.K. institu­tions demanded a greater likelihood of academic success before admission (Burke, 2002; Fulton and others, 1981).

    The U.K. national government first initiated access programs in 1978. In addition to the proactive stance by the national government to require this pre­requisite learning venue for some college aspirants, several distinctive features of access programs contrasted with learning assistance in the United States:  They were recognized as an official route into further higher education. They met minimum standards set by the national government before access programs students were admitted to college. They targeted underrepresented students such as disabled learners, the unem­ployed, female returnees, minority ethnic groups, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. They were evaluated by the Quality Assurance Agency, a national government agency similar to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (Universities and Colleges Admission Service, 2003a, 2003b).

    The British government created and provides ongoing evaluation for access programs, while in the United States they are generally under local institu­tional review. In the United States, the federal government is not a partner with learning assistance except for some competitive funds allocated through grant programs such as Title III, Title VI, and TRIO. It has been a missed opportunity for the national learning assistance professional associations to develop a formal, ongoing relationship with the U.S. Department of Educa­tion that could have led to more legitimacy, improvement, and perhaps more funding support.

    Pilot Experiments with Outsourcing Developmental Courses

    Forces coincided during the late 1980s through the 1990s to experiment with commercial companies’ provision of developmental college courses. Nation­wide, budget priorities shifted during the 1980s as state revenues previously devoted to public higher education began to erode because of escalating costs for state health care, transportation systems, prison facilities, and public K–12 education. With stagnant revenue growth and escalating operating costs, many colleges identified cost savings perceived to have little negative impact. A pop­ular approach was outsourcing services traditionally performed by college staff. Requiring highly competitive service bids and shifting escalating health insur­ance and other benefits (the fastest-growing component of labor costs) to sub­contractors would save significant costs for institutions. Numerous services were successfully outsourced: bookstores, food service, building maintenance, housing, and transportation services (Lyall and Sell, 2006). Another area for outsourcing was the delivery of developmental courses (Johnsrud, 2000).

    A small handful of colleges contracted with Kaplan, Inc. ( and Sylvan Learning Systems ( in the mid-1990s to provide instruction in remedial and developmental mathematics, reading, and writing. Colleges that participated in the pilot program included Greenville Technical College (South Carolina), Columbia College Chicago (Illinois), Howard Community College and Towson University (Maryland), and several other unnamed proprietary schools. National interest and debate were generated through the pilot projects (Blumenstyk, 2006; Gose, 1997). Initial reports were mixed in Maryland’s pilot program with Sylvan (Maryland Higher Education Commission, 1997). Students paid a surcharge between two and four times the regular tuition rate to cover instructional and admin­istrative expenses and allow the companies to turn a profit.

    Both Kaplan and Sylvan ended the pilot programs in agreement with the hosting institutions in the late 1990s. The reasons for their failure were pri­marily economic. The initial hope was to contain instructional costs and deliver improved student achievement and subsequent higher student reten­tion rates that would justify the annual contract cost, but it was unrealistic for a for-profit company to market a program for a lower cost than the ones that could be provided by the institution with the use of modestly paid adjunct instructors who could be assigned large classes (Blumenstyk, 2006; Boylan, 2002a). The same economic forces that were the catalyst for the experiment ultimately became the cause for this first wave of outsourcing to end. A sec­ond wave of outsourcing was expected to be more effective during the first decade of the twenty-first century as the focus changed from onsite develop­mental courses to online tutoring.

    Read blog post for April 25 for Part Two of this history.