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USM Voices: Free Press reports on new program helping students learn better

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Story by Katie Prior, Photograph by Dionne Smith

USM Free Press

USM’s many recent decisions have highlighted one unified goal: to ensure the success of our student body. The most recent development in this area is a learning-assistance program called Academic Gains through Improved Learning Effectiveness (AGILE).

AGILE was created out of the growing understanding of the multiplicity of the student body. From commuters, to campus-dwellers, full-time workers, parents and adult students, the diversity of USM is matched in the variety of learning techniques available through AGILE.

The AGILE program has been made possible through the growth of resources available through the Learning Commons in the Glickman Library. Now, in addition to the 10-year-old tutoring program at USM, the program provides access to peer-assisted study groups and personal learning assistance. These resources are specified toward a particular goal that students define and declares for themselves.

The AGILE program provides students with materials and different methods for note-taking that are optimized for particular subjects, such as Cornell notes for lecture-based classes versus T -Notes for maths and sciences. These resources are available through the Learning Commons, a tutor or peer assistant or through the AGILE website where everything is downloadable PDF (usm.maine.edu/agile).

This system also relies heavily on student tutors who go through a rigorous, nationally accredited training program. There are around 50 tutors each trained with unique diagnostic skills that they apply to help each learner they meet.

“USM Students have very busy lives,” says Paul Dexter, one of the creators of the AGILE program and the head of the tutoring program for the last 10 years. “Virtually every USM student I have ever met over the last 20 years has been a student and…” Whether that sentence finishes with employee, parent, athlete or any other of the vast identities our student body is made of, AGILE is designed to reach the wideness of lifestyles on campus.

The AGILE program is the product of Paul Dexter and Naamah Jarnot. Dexter is a student success veteran. He has nearly two decades of experience researching the diversity of learning, the establishment and maturation of the Learning Commons curriculum, and the tutoring program. Jarnot was hired for this position based on her background in college student development and counseling.

USM President Glenn Cummings and Provost Jeannine Uzzi have both been personally involved with the start-up of AGILE, ensuring that the Learning Commons is supplied and prepared to assist students. USM has prioritized and provided financial support for learning assistance to reinforce the student body and ensure academic success.

Though the AGILE program is centered around classroom and study or test preparation time habits, Jarnot added that life skills are a major focus of the program as well. AGILE helps to form healthy habits to replace outdated forms of studying and memorizing. Instead of a one-size-fits-all attitude, the helpers at AGILE focus on analyzing the types of schedules and lifestyle the student leads and helps to create a system of learning habits and ethics that translate into the workforce, home, further education, personal hobbies, and goals.

AGILE’S holistic approach to time management is described by Dexter as, “interrupting the forgetting process” by encouraging students away from unhelpful practices, like cramming all homework or study time into one day, or few hours. Jarnot says that AGILE helps create a seamless connection between their resources and a student’s lifestyle. Along with that, one of her goals for AGILE is to reach more students and fully integrate AGILE, so every student knows where they can receive assistance. Dexter described his goals in a similar fashion, that students would approach learning with enjoyment and excitement, rather than dread.

AGILE is working hard to introduce faculty, counselors, student volunteers, work-study students to its resources, to make them abundant and easily accessible. Jarnot and Dexter are disseminating this information daily, working tirelessly to change the experience of being a student of USM in order to incorporate healthy habits that will result in the most success in the long term and in the short term, reduce student stress now and foster a genuine happiness to learn that comes with the confidence that the programs at AGILE are built for them.