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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Peer Instructional Leader (PIL) Program for PSYC 1101 at Columbus State University

Columbus State University


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Dr. Diana Riser
Assistant Professor
Other team members: 

Dr. Stephanie da Silva
Associate Professor

Project Overview: 

Develop a Peer Instructional Leader (PIL) program for PSYC 1101, General Psychology, which replicates a successful existing PIL program in Biology (see Hughes, 2011, use of PIL for Human Anatomy and Physiology) at Columbus State University. Peer Leaders will be upper-level psychology majors enrolled in a newly created PSYC 4*** peer leader course (a PSYC elective). PIL hours, which will be managed by the faculty instructor of the PIL course, will include leadership/instructional hours, teaching development, undergraduate research on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), and development of open educational resources (OER). 

Project Description: 

Impact on Completion

The PIL program will generate increases in PSYC 1101 students’ learning and productive grades, motivation (via self-efficacy), exposure to research, and access to OER materials. The PIL program also will increase upper-level psychology majors’ understanding and articulation of PSYC 1101 content, understanding of research, and planning and collaboration skills.

Potential Lessons

We will examine the

  • Effectiveness of this PIL program for PSYC 1101 students and of the PIL course
  • for psychology peer leaders;
  • PSYC 1101 students’ motivation and use of the PIL;
  • Quality and subsequent adoption of OER materials developed by psychology majors;
  • Power of peer community-driven learning on retention.

Concept Description

We would like to improve student success in PSYC 1101. One of five options for the Behavioral Sciences requirement in the CORE, PSYC 1101 currently enrolls the most students of any of those Behavioral Science options. Over 900 students take this course each year. Due to struggles of completing this behavioral science there are also approximately 100 students repeating PSYC 1101 each year. On average 20.49% of course grades for PSYC 1101 are D, F, or WF, with 12.75% of those being an F or WF (see table in Appendix). This rate is comparable to the median found by other researchers for introductory psychology (Chute, 2008) and may indicate issues such as lack of preparation (e.g., time management and study skills), little understanding of college expectations (approximately 30% of CSU students are first generation students), or poor self-regulation (McElwee, 2013). During the fall and spring semesters when courses typically reach capacity, the percent of students repeating the course (i.e., taking a seat) for the second time ranges from 8%-13%. Increasing productive grades in PSYC 1101 not only will help students who currently earn nonproductive grades, it also will help other students’ progress by freeing seats occupied by students who are repeating the course.

Peer Instructional Leader (PIL) Program for PSYC 1101:

The need to increase the number of productive grades in PSYC 1101 will be addressed by developing and managing a peer instructional leader (PIL) program similar to what already exists successfully on our campus in Biology (Hughes, 2011) and other STEM disciplines (Shaw, Ticknor, and Howard, 2013). The PIL programs currently available in other STEM disciplines utilize paid peer leaders that are funded through course/lab fees or grants. Those peer leaders provide group-based learning sessions and guided practice. Our proposed PIL program will be unique from existing PIL programs at CSU in that its peer leaders will be enrolled in an upper-division Peer Instructional Leaders (PIL) course (PSYC 4***) taught by a full-time psychology faculty member, and peer leaders will earn course credit (rather than money) for their work. This course-based approached to PIL is based on Murray (2011) who reported successful use of such a program in the Department of Psychology at Georgia Southern University. Our PIL will extend Murray’s model by challenging (and supporting) peer leaders to conduct and present undergraduate research, as well as develop and organize sustainable OER materials.  

For the presently proposed PIL program in psychology, upper-level psychology students who meet a set of criteria (e.g., prerequisites of PSYC 1101 and PSYC 3211, minimum 3.0 GPA) can enroll in a newly created PSYC 4*** course for 3 credit hours as an PSYC elective (to be taught by a full-time psychology faculty member). These peer leaders will attend PSYC 1101 class meetings and, consistent with the established peer leader model from psychology (Murray, 2011), peer leaders will offer 6 hours of supplemental instruction to all PSYC 1101 students (i.e., 9 sections for Fall 2015). The 6 hours of supplemental instruction will include walk-in hours for individuals or groups and online chat sessions to provide learning support, a launch party, and group study events during midterm and finals. One to two peer leaders will be available for each supplemental instructional hour, yielding potentially 30 hours of peer instruction sessions available per week. Neither the PSYC 1101 instructor nor the PSYC 4*** instructor will be present during PIL sessions. Similar to existing PIL programs, the focus of supplemental instruction is to engage PSYC 1101 with course material in meaningful ways and guide completion of practice questions and problems (Hughes, 2011). All participation by PSYC 1101 students will be voluntary and attendance will be recorded by peer leaders for subsequent analysis of PIL impact. Psychology students enrolled in the PSYC 4*** will meet with their PSYC 4*** faculty instructor as a group/class for one hour each week and they will meet with each PSYC 1101 instructor at least once per semester. Through the upper-level course, peer leaders also will have the opportunity to conduct SoTL research with PSYC 1101 students and present their findings to PSYC 1101 students, to peers in the PIL course, and to the public at a conference.

The PIL program can improve PSYC 1101 productive grades in four major ways, all of which have been shown to improve student success and are described below. (See Gosser, 2008, 2011, Laoui  O’Donoghue, 2008, and Tenney and Houck, 2003 for further details on the benefits of PIL programs to student success.)

  1. Increase Instructional Hours and Collaborative Learning for PSYC 1101 Students
  2. According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2011), recitation and/or lab experience is recommended in order to improve student comprehension in lower division psychological science courses because the sessions require socially mediated interaction with the material. Some schools, such as Carnegie Mellon, currently include both weekly recitation and laboratory components to supplement introductory level psychology courses. Other schools, such as Virginia Tech, include just recitation sessions. At present, CSU provides students with neither of these options; the addition of peer instruction will help fill this void by providing additional instructional hours (i.e., engagement with course material). The positive impact of such experiences has been shown by other programs, such as the Colorado Learning Assistant Model ( as well as Murray (2011) and other peer leader programs cited herein.
  3. Increase PSYC 1101 Students’ Exposure to Undergraduate Research
  4. Although PSYC 1101 students can participate in ongoing research at CSU, they currently do not gain access to psychological science as a researcher (e.g., data analysis, presentations). Engaging students in research and application is difficult, at present, due to limited contact hours in a 3-credit-hour core course. One goal of the PIL program is to increase exposure of PSYC 1101 students to undergraduate research, and further develop their experiences with application (both increase impact on student learning and retention according to Kuh, 2008).
  5. Increase accessibility of PSYC 1101 Instructional Resources
  6. The PIL program will generate OER materials for the PSYC 1101 course and those materials will be made available to all PSYC 1101 students and instructors via a regularly updated LibGuide. This production of OER materials might impact the official adoption of OER materials by PSYC 1101 instructors. There currently is 0% use of OER across all PSYC 1101 sections offered at CSU. The cost of a typical PSYC 1101 text ($100-150) is prohibitive for some students. PSYC 1101 students are more likely to be successful when they have access to the learning materials (see de los Arcos, Farrow, Perryman, Pitt, and Weller, 2014).
  7. Positive Peer Modeling
  8. Peer leaders also will benefit PSYC 1101 students by serving as positive peer models (e.g., modeling good study skills). Because CSU has a relatively high number of first-generation college students, it is critical to provide them with examples of students who make choices conducive to college success. According to Ho (2006) peers influence nearly all facets of undergraduates’ lives, from intellectual growth to psychosocial development. Perhaps more relevant for the present purposes, is the finding that peers strongly influence the likelihood undergraduates will continue and complete college.
  9. Additional benefits of such a PIL program are the
  • Improved retention and progression of the approximately 200 students not currently earning productive grades;
  • Increased learning in students who are earning productive grades and potentially higher grades for those students.
  • Creation of an upper-level course on teaching of psychology for majors;
  • Increased understanding of PSYC 1101 students: how they learn, what makes them succeed; what motivates them to utilize peer instruction; why they become involved in psychological research;
  • Increased adoption of OER materials by PSYC 1101 instructors (due to the limited number of full-time faculty, most 1101 sections are taught by part-time faculty who may not have the time to develop these resources).

As the program is managed through an upper-level course, the PIL program is sustainable and is scalable to all disciplines at CSU and throughout the USG. Because peer leaders will earn course credit, rather than money, for offering instruction, the PIL program can be sustained across years with minimal cost (see PROJECT BUDGET section). To illustrate the potential impact of this project if it were scaled at the USG level, we collected PSYC 1101 data (shown in APPENDIX) from four other schools. If this PIL were adopted successfully by those 4 USG institutions whose PSYC 1101 annual enrollment ranges from 300-2200 students with a range of 7-30% nonproductive grades the annual number of total PSYC 1101 students positively impacted by PILs could be as many as 5,796 students (including CSU). The number of students currently earning nonproductive grades at those 5 institutions is roughly 917. While we are not collaborating currently with these other schools, PIL faculty will present at a SoTL conference to share this program’s structure and effectiveness in hopes that other USG institutions may adopt similar PIL programs. Thus, this PIL program has the potential to be transformative. A key component of making the program sustainable and scalable is consideration of how the faculty member who teaches the PIL course will be compensated. Ideally, this instructor will receive reduced course load as a result of his/her work with the peer leaders. We propose that the work with the peer leaders be counted as 1 contact hour of work each semester it is offered, which should produce a 3-hour course reduction every fourth semester.

Project Plan

Goal: Improve PSYC 1101 student success through the development of a Peer Instructional Leader (PIL) program including up to 12 psychology peer leaders per semester.

Objectives: The proposed PIL program will improve PSYC 1101 productive grades and learning; improve PSYC 1101 students’ exposure to psychological research; improve PSYC 1101 student access to OER through OER materials developed by PILs; and improve upper-level psychology students’ applied research skills and knowledge base of psychology.


PIL Course and Instruction: Project will result in a 3-credit-hour PSYC 4*** peer instructional leader (PIL) course with a maximum enrollment of 12 peer leader students. Twelve peer leaders per semester will yield a 30:1 ratio of PSYC 1101 students to peer leader (i.e., 2 peer leaders per section of PSYC 1101). Each peer leader will complete the following each week throughout the course/semester:

  • 6 hours peer supplemental instruction to PSYC 1101 students (available online and in person)
  • 3 hours attendance in PSYC 1101 course (peer leader interaction in class with students and instructor)
  • 1 hour in Peer Instructional Leader (PSYC 4***) class meeting with psychology faculty member
  • 2 hours of homework and preparation (OER, undergraduate SoTL research, and Peer Leader teaching materials)

Undergraduate Research Experience: Peer leaders will conduct all aspects of the research process by studying the efficacy of the PIL program through the upper-level course and will apply research findings to improve development of the PIL program across the 2015-2016 Academic Year. Peer leaders will measure variables that may impact student success and use of the peer leader program (e.g., self efficacy, motivation, feedback on PIL program, and sense of belonging). Peer leaders will present this research to the PSYC 1101 students (in class) and to a professional audience at a conference.

OER Materials: Peer leaders will create OER materials for various PSYC 1101 content modules and use/present these materials during the PSYC 1101 class meeting time and during supplemental instruction sessions. Additionally, peer leaders will create OER materials designed to help first generation students’ transition into college and increase likelihood of college success and RPG. After Spring 2016, OER materials will be available electronically to any student enrolled in PSYC 1101 (at CSU and throughout the USG).  The purpose of the OER materials is twofold: (1) provide free resources to PSYC 1101 students, which can replace their expensive textbooks, and (2) provide Psychology majors experience in gathering and organizing educational materials. The role of OER materials in achieving the mission of this project is to ensure available resources for students who cannot afford it, thereby improving their likelihood of success in PSYC 1101.

Timeline of Implementation:


  • PSYC 1101 Instructors (n = 6-8 / AY)
  • PSYC 1101 students (n = 850-950 / AY)
  • PSYC 4*** Instructor (n = 1-2 psych faculty)
  • Psychology majors(n = 20-24 / AY)
  • Instructional Materials and Space


  • PIL enroll in Pilot Course
  • PSYC 1101 Instructors and PIL meet
  • PIL attend in PSYC 1101 courses
  • PIL hold sessions for PSYC 1101 students
  • PIL host promotional events (e.g., launch party, sessions  for midterm and finals)
  • Weekly PSYC 4*** class meetings
  • PIL conduct supervised SoTL research
  • PIL develop of OER materials
  • New PSYC 4*** Curriculum Proposal Submitted


  • New PIL course (PSYC 4***)
  • Trained peer leaders
  • with SoTL Experience
  • Increased instructional hours and peer modeling
  • for PSYC 1101 students
  • PSYC 1101 students’ exposure to research
  • SoTL findings
  • OER materials
  • for PSYC 1101

Short-term Outcomes

  • Increase in productive grades and learning for PSYC 1101 students.
  • Increased experience in teaching and research for psychology majors.
  • Greater understanding of PSYC 1101 student learning and effectiveness of PIL program.
  • Greater connections between faculty, especially PSYC 1101 instructors, and students
  • (due to increased interaction and collaboration).

Long-term Outcomes

  • Increased retention and progression of PSYC 1101 students who currently do not earn C or higher  (n = 150-200 / AY).
  • Increased confidence and graduate-school options
  • for PSYC 1101 students whose grades improve due to the PIL program (e.g., increase from B to A).
  • Increased marketability and success of PILs who gain teaching and research experience through the PIL course.

Summer, 2015:  Develop information and materials for PSYC 1101 faculty inclusion of PIL program;

develop advertising materials and reserve space for PSYC 1101 PIL;

organize the pre-semester meeting between PSYC Instructors and Peer Leaders.

Fall, 2015:  Pilot PIL process with Research Design and Methodology II (PSYC 3212) students led by Dr. Riser; submit proposal for new course to Curriculum Committee; submit IRB proposal; collect and analyze pilot data.

Spring, 2016:   Offer PIL course as upper-level Independent Study in Psychology course (PSYC 4899); improve PIL implementation based on preliminary data and project evaluation from fall; develop, evaluate, and organize OER materials; collect and analyze data regarding PSYC 1101 students’ experience of PIL program; PIL presentation of SoTL research at a conference.

Summer, 2016:  Provide OER materials to all PSYC 1101 instructors (during summer) for adoption in fall of 2016

Fall, 2016:  Offer the new “Peer Instructional Leaders in Psychology” course (PSYC 4***);

PSYC 1101 instructors potentially adopt OER materials as official course texts.


The following model describes components of the PIL program for PSYC 1101 at Columbus State University during the 2016-2017 year

following its development and pilot (during 2015-2016), where AY = Academic Year and n=number.


FALL 2015 ($7700)

Faculty stipend for oversight of Research Design and Methodology II pilot and course curriculum development


Monetary support for preliminary development and oversight of the PIL course & curriculum.

Faculty stipend for grant development and organization, and SoTL research oversight


Monetary support for writing grant,

planning and beginning SoTL research

PSYC 1101 instructor participation

($300 each* for fall; 6 instructors)


Monetary incentive for incorporating peer leaders into PSYC 1101 courses.

PIL Events (Snacks and Advertising Materials)


Events to encourage PSYC 1101 participation at key points throughout the term.

Snacks for Pre-Semester Meeting

with PSYC 1101 instructors and peer leaders


Introductions to people and PIL program;

goals, schedules, etc. will be discussed.

Two laptops

(approximately $800 each to last 3-4 years)


Used for live chats and virtual support,

use of web resources, SPSS data analysis,

OER development, etc. by Peer Leaders

PIL Supplies (e.g., markers, flip charts, printing materials, fliers)



SPRING 2016 ($7300)

Faculty stipend for oversight of

Independent Study in Psychology (PSYC 4899)


This faculty member also will create course materials to be used subsequently in PIL course.

Faculty stipend for OER development and

SoTL research presentation


Monetary support for faculty oversight and organization of OER development.;

preparation and travel to SoTL conference

PSYC 1101 instructor participation

($200 each* for spring; up to 7 instructors)


Smaller incentive will be offered during spring.

PIL Events (Snacks and Advertising Materials)




Snacks for Pre-Semester Meeting

with PSYC 1101 Instructors and Peer Leaders



Undergraduate Research Conference Presentation (Materials and Registration)


Peer leaders from fall and spring will present information and impact of PIL program.

*The PSYC 1101 instructor stipend for participation in the PIL program will be larger in the fall (i.e., during the first semester peer leaders will be used), and then will be smaller in the spring after they have one semester of experience with the peer leaders. This small incentive to incorporate the peer leaders into their courses will cease after spring of 2016.

**In the future, these items will be subsidized by the PIL course fee in order to ensure sustainability of the program. We estimate the fee for PSYC 4*** to be $50 per student (which is less than our current fee, $75, for upper-level Independent Study courses). The course fee will generate $600 per semester to fund the teaching materials, pre-semester meetings with PSYC 1101 instructors, and PIL events. Laptops also will be updated or replaced using these funds as needed. Laptops are essential to making the PIL available to students enrolled in online sections or with distance education needs. All other expenditures will cease after AY 2015-2016, making the PIL program sustainable.

TOTAL COST =~$15,000

Project Evaluation

Implementation of the PIL program will be evaluated according to:

  • Number of PIL hours provided.
  • Number of PIL hours utilized by PSYC 1101 students.
  • Number of PSYC 1101 students who attend PIL sessions.
  • Frequency of PSYC 1101 students’ attendance in PIL sessions.
  • Development/Existence of the PIL course (PSYC 4***).

Efficacy of the PIL program will be evaluated according to:

  • PSYC 1101 students’ percent productive grades.
  • PSYC 1101 students’ evaluation of peer leaders (upon or following sessions).
  • PSYC 1101 students’ evaluation of the PIL program.
  • PSYC 1101 instructors’ and peer leaders’ evaluation of the PIL program.
  • PSYC 1101 students’ performance on a pretest and posttest administered during PSYC 1101class meetings (to be compared from beginning to end of fall semester, but also compared to improvements during AY 2014-2015 when no PIL program was in place). This test includes two items related to research.
  • Comparison of PSYC 1101 grades for students who do and do not participate in PIL sessions.
  • PSYC 1101 students’ self-reported motives for participation in PIL sessions.
  • PSYC 1101 students’ attitudes toward CSU and departmental community
  • (to assess potential impact on sense of belonging and potential impact on retention).

The Undergraduate (SoTL) Research will be evaluated according to:

  • Instructor-created rubrics assessing clarity and understanding in dissemination of research findings.
  • Acceptance of poster or paper presentation at conference.

Quality of the OER materials will be evaluated according to:

  • Instructor-created rubrics will assess relevance, validity, and presentation of materials.
  • PSYC 1101 students will evaluate the OER materials via survey upon or following their use.
  • (Survey instruments will be embedded in the LibGuide where OER materials will be available.)
  • Adoption of OER materials by PSYC 1101 instructors
  • (to assess increase in use of OER across PSYC 1101 instructors).


Table of enrollment and non-productive grades for PSYC 1101 sections at Columbus State University.





Overall D/F/WF Percentage

Spring 2015





Fall 2014





Summer 2014





Spring 2014





Fall 2013





Summer 2013





Spring 2013





Fall 2012






Table of enrollment and percent non-productive grades for PSYC 1101 sections at other USG institutions.



Overall D/F/WF percentage

Columbus State University



Institution 1



Institution 2



Institution 3



Institution 4



Note: Data acquired through personal communication with GA Psychology Department Chairs.

Institutions remain anonymous as permission for disclosure of data was not requested.


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Shaw, K. A., Ticknor, C., and Howard, T. (2013). The effect of peer leader instruction on introductory university science and mathematics course performance: Preliminary results. Perspectives in Learning, 14(1), 20-27.

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