Contributor: Kimberly LaComba, Director of the Learning Resource Center, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

When teaching Succeeding in the College Environment at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, I utilize an interactive learning approach with the students and provide them an opportunity to pay it forward academically. Although academically at-risk students are enrolled in the course, any college student can benefit from the course content. At the end of the term, campus students recap what they have learned throughout the semester and develop an outreach initiative to share their new-found knowledge and skills with the entire college campus, thus academically paying it forward. In a recent semester, students that were enrolled in the course sent an email to the entire student body with helpful tips based on the time management, study, and stress relief skills they had learned in the course. The Succeeding in the College Environment students also provided goodie bags as a stress relief for students in the Learning Resource Center on Study Day (the day before finals). The following comment is from a student who paid it forward:

“It felt really awesome to utilize the skills I learned in ID 110 for something great! I was able to not only use the skills gained in the class for me, but also as a way that impacted other people. Academically paying it forward reinforced a lot of my knowledge; it was a nice reminder of everything I learned throughout the semester.”

I recently expanded the Succeeding in the College Environment course to SMWC’s distance education population. This program equips mostly non-traditional students within the Woods Online distance education program with the additional skills needed to succeed within the virtual college environment. The course is highly interactive, with use of a discussion board, virtual field trips, and more. This innovative online approach to developmental education coursework in a distance format provides an opportunity for students who are at a distance to increase their college learning strategy skills and become more confident in their academic ability.

In an effort to provide further academic assistance via peer tutoring support, I developed an online tutoring program for SMWC distance education students. The program was piloted in March of 2010 and was made available to all distance education students that fall. The online tutoring program provides real-time, one-on-one tutoring sessions in a virtual platform for subjects including college algebra, proof reading/editing, and more. Trained tutors, who are SMWC campus students, use a virtual whiteboard to reinforce concepts and have access to the course textbooks. The online tutoring program has experienced a 160% increase in requests in just one year. The majority of the requests, approximately 41%, are for assistance in college algebra. Survey results indicate that students do feel the tutors are spending enough time helping them (93%) and they will use the online tutoring service again (93%). The following comments were also provided by the students receiving tutoring:

“My tutor was very helpful and kind. I appreciate her attentiveness and help very much!”

“I like to ask questions at the same time as using the virtual whiteboard. It is very helpful!”

The online tutoring program allows students at a distance to obtain needed academic assistance without the requirement of being on campus to meet with a tutor.

Kimberly LaComba is the Director of the Learning Resource Center at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) in Indiana.  She earned both a Master of Science in Human Resource Management for Higher Education and a BS in Business Administration from Indiana State University.  Kim has nine years of experience in higher education and five years of experience developing online tutoring programs.  At SMWC she expanded the Learning Resource Center and currently teaches the college success course in the campus and distance programs (the latter of which she developed in an interactive course format to assist students in succeeding in the virtual college environment). Kim also teaches business courses, serves as ADA Advisor, leads the Academic Support Team, and has presented at various national and regional conferences.  She works to motivate her students to reach their academic goals.  Kim’s research interests include retention of academically at-risk students and motivation as an academic success qualifier. 


How do you encourage students to get the help they need, and pass what they’ve learned on to others? Share your ideas in the comments.