Supporting Northwestern Students as They Navigate Their Academic Paths

Northwestern now provides undergraduate students a centrally located and operated, easy-to-find resource for academic support. The new Academic Support & Learning Advancement (ASLA) unit, which sits in the Main Library’s “Core” North Tower, offers group study programs, drop-in tutoring, group and individual academic coaching, academic-strategy workshops, and other resources for undergraduates – all geared toward supporting Northwestern students in navigating their academic paths.

Developed as a joint proposal of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching and Weinberg College, the ASLA unit serves all Northwestern undergraduates, and additionally works with faculty and staff to promote productive student learning approaches. The centrality of ASLA provides more seamless access to academic support and signifies to undergraduates that receiving academic help is a normal part of academic life at Northwestern – a notion reflected in the unit’s tagline, “Success is not a solo endeavor.”

It’s a friendly environment where we all lift each other so we can collectively do our best.

ASLA Drop-In Tutoring participant

Central to the ASLA model is the idea of peer-to-peer support. ASLA programs encourage peer support and collaborative learning, and are led by experienced, trained undergraduates who are committed to encouraging their fellow students’ success. The peer-based model allows for a greater level of comfort in the programs than students might feel in the classroom or office hours, meaning that students may be more likely to ask questions and express doubt or confusion – an essential component of learning. Peer leaders play the role of guide or learning facilitator, rather than instructor, and encourage fellow students to engage in effective study practices and make use of faculty office hours and other academic resources.

ASLA’s programs take place in a variety of locations, making it convenient for students to access support wherever they happen to be. Study groups and coaching sessions happen in classroom buildings, residence hall spaces, the Norris Center, and other locations all over the Evanston campus, and drop-in tutoring is offered in residence halls and in the Main Library. Approximately 150 study groups take place weekly each quarter, along with seven weekly tutoring sessions and multiple group and individual coaching sessions. Study groups and tutoring cover more than 30 different science, math, and social science courses.

ALSA peer study group

ALSA Peer-Guided Study Group meeting

Evaluations of several ASLA programs show that students who participate tend to do better in their courses than nonparticipants (even after controlling statistically for any initial differences), and that they make gains in important areas including feeling confident in their courses, feeling a sense of belongingness in their courses, and using effective study strategies.

I really benefitted from having a space outside of office hours where I could ask questions and discuss material in more depth.

ASLA Peer-Guided Study Group participant

ASLA’s Peer-Guided Study Group and Drop-In Tutoring programs offer support for a wide range of science, math, economics, and statistics courses. Academic coaching is also available in both group and individual settings. For more information, see the ASLA website, or email asla@northwestern.edu.