By JOSH GRAY
Do you find learning tiring or boring? Meet Kai Lindstedt and his employees who make learning fun.
The enthusiastic tutoring guru, who serves as the acting assistant program manager for West Campus, can always can be seen with a grin on his face.
About 120 tutors span across the five campuses of Pima Community College, except the Community Campus.
Besides accessing the brains of tutors, students can take advantage of all sorts of free amenities, such as the extensive library of textbooks; calculators; use computers; and even borrow headphones.
Lindstedt explained the intricacies of the Learning Center and its people.
Q: What exactly is the Learning Center?
A: “Here’s the pitch I give to students. It’s the place with free tutoring; a lot of people respond, ‘That’s the tutoring center, right?’ … But, there are places that are considered homework help centers. And then the next step up in terms of cognitive functioning are tutoring centers. Those offer more comprehensive tutoring services that go beyond like “Let us help you with your homework.”
“And then the next step above that finally are learning centers. Learning centers go beyond course specific content, into overall study skills for student’s success.
“The people who impart a lot of that to our students are our tutors, and so we train them in those kinds of things. But as full-time staff we also play a role, we will do study skills consultations with students, and more.”
Q: You said there are five learning centers at all five campus. Can you get the same resources and help that you get at a different campus learning center?
A: “Basically, yes. What we have in common; we all offer drop-in tutoring services with our CRLA-trained and certified tutors. We all have access to course reserves, some learning centers are inside of libraries. Downtown’s and the East Campus are both in the library. Desert Vista’s is right next to the library, but it’s all in one learning commons type of area. Northwest is just one floor right below the library.
“There are different minor details, like differences in calculator check-out policies. Some have certain ones you can check out for three weeks, and the ones that are in libraries obviously have access to more resources. We do have different hours, and some centers offer Saturday hours.”
Q: Are there any non-academic perks for going to the Learning Center?
A: “Yeah. Just this semester I started doing a survey at the end of every week that goes out to students after they have visited for the first time. Historically, we’ve collected student feedback in different ways that I didn’t like because my background is in math.
“So I’m trying a new thing, and the comment I’ve already gotten twice out of only like 10 returned surveys is you guys should give us snacks. We don’t yet, but if more people keep putting that, we’ll have to start taking it seriously.
“Everything that contributes to a positive environment contributes to learning. So I talk all the time about the view (out the windows), because I think it’s great and it’s kind of like a funny thing to talk about. But if a place is more enjoyable to hang out in, you are more likely to spend more time there.”
Q: Based on everything you’ve said so far, am I guaranteed an ‘A’ in my class if I show up?
A: “You are NOT. We cannot guarantee you any grade. But we can almost guarantee you an F if you don’t show up to your class.
“That’s one of the most important things to understand: Students are responsible for their success. Our responsibility is to make sure that they are aware of the resources and they are aware of the benefits of using them. If students do well or they do poorly, as a tutor you don’t get to take credit or blame.”
Q: What type of statistics do you have about how well students do after they visit?
A: “Institutional research here is done by IRPE Institutional Research Planning and Effectiveness (a department at Pima). And what we find is that every semester the students who use The Learning Center have about a 5 percent higher success rate than the students who don’t. And when I say success, that means they got an A, B or C in the class.
“The numbers are something like overall for Pima students maybe 67 percent and for Learning Center users 72 percent.
“What’s really neat about that report is we can break it down and look at students who are new to higher education. And for those students, the difference is about 10 percent.”
Q: What are some of the most common subjects students seek help for, and what are the subjects mainly offered at the learning center?
A: “Math is the subject for which we get the most visits. Within math it goes something so there’s like every transfer program at Pima falls under one of three categories. An associate of arts, science or business. And each one of those has a different minimum math level for the Arts its math 142 for business it’s 151 and for science it’s 220 which is calculus right so that’s topics in college math, college algebra and calculus. So those are the classes I think the three classes for which we have the most visits because those are the classes that all of our transfer students end up in one of those classes.
“A lot of people make use of our writing center, and it’s fewer visits but you spend much more time with the tutor. Also totally separate from the learning center is a biology study lab on campus it is staffed completely by volunteer students that get A’s and B’s.
“Another big one that we get is American Sign Language. We staff and run the ASL lab, which is over in the H building. And they get a fair amount of traffic because ASL students are required to spend time in the lab. And the ASL lab is really cool. It’s about immersion and exposure to the language so it is staffed by people who are fluent signers. There is no talking at all in the ASL lab. They play games like Battleship and Uno and card games.”
Q: Do you have a paper or something that applies to all campuses that shows hours and stuff
A: We don’t have a paper flyer but pima.edu/tutoring takes you to the online tutoring schedule. I can filter by certain subjects, or I can just say ‘Show me all tutoring at all campuses,’ so I click ‘All campuses’ here and this is gonna show me what campus and what subject there are tutors for everyday all that. So you can see we are all sharing a lot of stuff.
“Some of them have specialized like Downtown has a paralegal tutor.”
Q: Is there any type of free stuff that you give out here?
A: “Over the summer, we instituted a very successful take a pen leave a pen basket so if students are in need of a writing utensil they can just take one and if students end up with extra ones or they are not in need of one they can donate that. People helping each other out.
“Other free stuff here? The knowledge man, the knowledge.”
Q: What happens if you hate your tutor?
A: “It’s important to understand what the students needs are and not necessarily what the students wants are. Because what students want is to have my homework done so I have to think about it for the next week but what student’s need is like someone to force them to do a little bit of the heavy lifting and do some of the thinking … People have different personalities and different styles and so if they really hate their tutor, MAN that’s tough. … But if you and your tutor are not working well together, you can ask them if there is another tutor available to explain it in a different way and they will say absolutely. Many of our tutors encourage students to work with multiple tutors especially in writing since it’s so valuable to get different input because it’s a bit more subjective.”
Q: What if you love your tutor?
A: “If you really like working with your tutor, you can take a picture of their schedule which is posted on the wall and you can come back and see them again. You come back so much that they are gonna say, ‘Hey, you need to start doing some work on your own,’ and then you’re gonna love them a little bit less, and you’re gonna start to hate them. What they want to do is get you dialed into the middle there where you’re gonna be ‘I feel totally OK about this person.’ ”
Q: Is there anything else that sets Pima’s tutors apart from any tutor you an find in Tucson?
A: “The U of A is the other higher education institution here and they also have free tutoring for students. Their tutoring center is called the Think Tank. It started in a similar model it was free drop in tutoring. And the Think Tank was really successful and it got so popular and the U of A serves over 30,000 undergrad students.
“And so, one little center but now they have multiple locations but it’s not a reasonable way to scale what they were doing. So now, they’re restrictions so if you were to go to the think tank as a U of A student there’s restrictions on like how often you can seek tutoring and how long you can spend with a tutor or you can choose to like pay for a package of tutoring where you can get private time with a tutor on a more consistent basis. One thing that sets us apart from that model and again the only reason that they had to do that is because they were successful and they got too popular one thing that sets us apart is that it is unlimited.
“Unlimited free drop we don’t charge anything for any of the services that we offer. And I think that a big benefit of working with learning center tutors that they are employees of the college and we have direct lines of communications with the faculty and so we are aware of what is going on in the classes, and when instructors have certain ways of doing things our tutors should be much more in tune with that, and I think there is some, I don’t know if safety is the word, but there is some kind of security in being here in like an official college condoned environment where, you know, in theory the students that are coming in here, are coming in here because they want to learn, so that they can be successful, and I think with those private tutors situations there is a temptation that is sometimes hard to resist for students to short cut things and it makes it a lot easy when you are paying someone a bunch of money every hour, it makes it a lot easy for you to tell them what you want them to do for you, where as here, you can be assured that our tutors going to be doing what should in your best interest as a student.
Q: Do you get outsiders, that aren’t from Pima, coming into the learning center?
A: Sometimes, we get students who come here because of the services that Pima provides in general to the community. What we tell them is that, the services we provide are paid for by Pima student tuition and those students need to have priority access to our service.
The one thing that we can provide to external client, are students who are planning to attend Pima and are looking for help preparing for the placement tests. But most of the support that I encourage our tutors to provide to those student is say “A placement is called a placement test for a reason, it’s trying to figure out where you are right now,” it doesn’t really make sense to try and study a bunch to do better on the placement test.
Q: How would you describe a student that would benefit from coming to the learning center?
A: “I think that the students who benefit most are the ones who come in with that mindset that I mentioned of just, students whose goal is to learning will benefit from being in the learning center, which maybe sounds a little cheesy, but i think that is true, I think that it’s harder for students whose goal is to get one hundred percent on my homework assignment, those students don’t always get want they think that they want or need out of their visit to the learning center, because we tell our tutors we’ve all learned stuff, we’re all in classes and we know that an extremely valuable part of the learning experience is getting things wrong and learning from that and trying things and making some little mistakes along the way, and so students sometimes are really upset when a tutor “leaves mistakes” on their paper, but we talked about how those things are beneficial to students and how to handle those things.
Q: Do you call it “The Learning Center” because abbreviating it to “TLC,” could also mean “Tender Loving Care?”
A: It’s a tough-love environment. This is your personal trainer telling you to do another rep even though you don’t want it.”
Q: Is there any other information you think the students would benefit from knowing?
A: “One of the most important things the learning center provides is just a place that doesn’t have those other distractions. I mean I do it in my job still. I think, ‘Oh I didn’t quite get done what I wanted to today, but like I can go home go home like relax a little bit, change out of my work clothes and then I can finish up some work,’ that is one of the hardest things to do.
“It’s hard for us to do in the professional world and hard for students to do and one of the most valuable things the learning center provides, is just like that place where you can go and designate that time to get some work done. And so all that to say, students that use the service, whatever they are, even if anything from using tutoring all the time all the way to like, ‘Hey, I just use it as a space and I’ve never even talked to anybody who’s in here,’ those students collectively, we know, are more successful in their classes. So, The Learning Center is where smart students get smarter.
“And that’s not that you have to be ‘smart’ to use the learning center. The students who are using The Learning Center I think are the smartest students are the ones who know where the resources are to help them become successful. The tutors deserve a lot more money than what they get, but what that means, the reason that they do what they do is because they really love, so if you go to a learning center, you will work with somebody whose passion is what you guys are talking about, whose passion is helping you be successful. All of our tutors are currently students or were college student, they’re a tremendous source of knowledge and resources.”