• Peer Mentors Improve Academic Outcomes in Student Centered Psychology Research Methods and Statistics

      Pilot, Zachery; Surprise, Malinda; Dinius, Cassandra; Olechowski, Alicia; Habib, Reza
      Students often enter undergraduate research methods and statistics (RMS) courses with trepidation (Dempster & McCorry, 2009;?Freng, Webber, Blatter, Wing, & Scott, 2011;?Vittengl et al., 2004) fueled by factors including a fear of being under prepared for the material (Hudak & Anderson, 1990), believing that traditional lectures are passive (Gasiewski, Eagan, Garcia, Hurtado, & Chang, 2012), and being anxious about learning statistics (Macher, Paechter, Papousek, & Ruggeri, 2012). We redesigned our RMS course to be student-centered, involving a semester long research project, and including problem-based learning activities to mitigate student concern about RMS courses. We predicted that support from peer mentors would serve as scaffolding for student development in multiple domains, helping them successfully navigate the course and result in improved academic performance (Chi, Siler, Jeong, Yamauchi, & Hausmann, 2001). In the first semester of the study (Fall 2016), one section of the RMS course was taught with the inclusion of peer-mentors in the classroom (experimental condition), while the other section was taught in a traditional format (without peer-mentors; control condition). In the second semester of the study (Spring 2017), both sections of the RMS course employed peer-mentors in the classroom. A MANCOVA was conducted to assess the impact of the presence of peer-mentors in the classroom on exam performance while controlling for background variables. A 2 Classroom (A vs. B) by 2 Semester (Fall 2016 vs. Spring 2017) by 4 Evaluations (Test 1, Test 2, Test 3, Final Exam) multivariate analysis of covariance was conducted with 2 pretests as covariates. There was a significant main effect of Classroom, F (1, 164) = 12.54, p < 0.001; ?MS?_e = 0.047. Two separate MANCOVAs were conducted to examine these differences. For Fall 2016, there was a main effect of Classroom, F (1, 86) = 12.78, p < 0.001; ?MS?_e= 0.044. For Spring 2017, the only effect to reach significance was the Classroom x Evaluation 2-way interaction, F (3, 228) = 2.90, p < 0.05; ?MS?_e= 0.010. The results revealed larger differences between the RMS sections during the first semester (Fall 2016) of the study where the sections differed with respect to the presence of peer-mentors in the classroom (control vs. experimental sections) than in the second semester (Spring 2017) of the study where both sections employed peer-mentors. The findings are in line with the hypotheses: students who received support and guidance from peer mentors fared better than their counterparts in the classroom without peer mentors. These results suggest that tailoring mentoring programs to specific issues within gatekeeper courses has a positive impact on student academic performance and may help in retaining those students within the major (Seymour, 2011).