iStudy tutorials aim to help students succeed in college and beyond

by Jennifer Montminy
Communications Intern for Teaching and Learning with Technology

Over a decade ago, Lead Instructional Designer in ITS Training Services, Brett Bixler, interviewed and questioned faculty across all Penn State campuses in an attempt to discover what parts of college curriculum students struggled with the most. The product of this research was the start of iStudy, a series of 12 tutorials focused on helping students develop skill sets that faculty found to be the most lacking. Designed to enhance study skills, life skills, and career skills, iStudy tutorials provided training on time management, test anxiety, note taking, research, and more.

Today these tutorials, now 27 in number, still work toward the same goal of improving the ways students think, learn, and work, but with more material, increased interaction, and improved accessibility. Bixler has spent the last year and a half revamping this important resource, taking the always strong, though admittedly sometimes dry content and filling it with more images, questions, quizzes, comics, and more. The tutorials will be re-launched this fall--the final step in the transformation of a great teaching tool into an invaluable one.

Through a multiple-unit effort across Penn State, accessibility features have been incorporated into the iStudy tutorials in efforts to ensure that people with visual and hearing impairments can use the materials. Previously available for use only through Penn State's course management system, iStudy tutorials will now be directly accessible via http://istudy.psu.edu and available for use by students and faculty at Penn State and across the world. Bixler hopes the fact that the resource is now readily available to all interested learners will allow a greater number of students to benefit from the tutorials.

However, even with this improved availability, the role of faculty in turning these tutorials into the valuable teaching aids they are meant to be remains incredibly important. Each tutorial features an instructor page at the end of the lesson that provides recommendations for ways that faculty and instructors can incorporate the tutorials directly into course material. If instructors don't have room in their curriculum or the tutorials don't align with their materials directly, they can still do a large service by recommending the site to students in their classes. 

Bixler stresses the importance of awareness when talking about these tutorials. He believes that "if a student were to take all the tutorials, they would be a better learner," but in order for that to work, they need to know the tutorials are out there. By listing the link under the resources section on a syllabus, mentioning it in class, or including the link on their ANGEL course pages, faculty can help spread the word.

Students have an almost overwhelming amount of information constantly at their fingertips, but sometimes the critical link that students are missing is not what to learn, but how to learn it. By targeting essential skill set areas, these new-and-improved tutorials provide students with the guidance, support, and tools they need to succeed at Penn State and beyond.