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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BUGS offers comfortable, flexible tutoring for free

Published: September 13, 2013
Section: News, Top Stories

Brandeis Undergraduate Group Study, better known as BUGS, starts up again this Monday, Sept. 16. BUGS is a free tutoring service run through Academic Services, for students by students. 24 tutors in 28 subjects cover 65 different classes in all. Tutoring can be one-on-one or group study. This year, tutors are available for five new subjects: Biology 16a, German 109b, Math 20a, Neuroscience 22b and Psychology 52a.

BUGS has revamped its location in Academic Services with new couches, whiteboards, learning materials and more space than in previous years. The extra room is much needed, as more students come in each year. Last year, there were 752 sessions and 348 students in total. Associate Director of Class-Based Advising Brian Koslowski co-supervises the program with David Gruber, an academic advisor. Doing the math, it is easy to see that there are often “repeat customers,” Koslowski’s term for the students who keep coming back for more help. The BUGS tutors are patient, creative and “a good group of students who know their stuff,” Koslowski said.

Not only do BUGS tutors go through training at Academic Services, but they have also been highly recommended by faculty and done very well in the courses they tutor for. Students can feel at ease when coming in for a session, as the tutors are students themselves who have gone through the same coursework. It is a non-intimidating atmosphere that consists of students who love to help others learn, Koslowski explained. “Tutoring also helps to strengthen and solidify one’s own knowledge,” he added. For some tutors, this may be a step on the way to becoming teachers of the subject.

Koslowski relayed that anyone and everyone is welcome and can benefit from the sessions. Students in introductory classes may want the more personalized attention, while upperclassmen needing to complete certain requirements, such as a language class, can also profit from BUGS, as these courses cannot be taken “Pass/Fail.”

Koslowski also spoke about the two main types of people who come to BUGS tutoring. There are students who feel completely stuck and come in because they have no idea what is going on in the class, and there are students who want to put in their best effort to get that A by using all resources available to them.

“BUGS can help lift students up from a D to a C or a B to an A, depending on what the needs of the student are,” Koslowski said. Besides getting better grades, Koslowski lists learning how to take notes appropriately, asking the right questions and knowing how to approach faculty as other benefits of BUGS sessions. Students also learn how to be stronger self-advocates and that there is no shame in asking for help, according to Koslowski.

Whatever students are wishing to get out of BUGS, it seems to be working. The program hears positive feedback regularly from students who attended sessions, whether it is getting a high grade on a test or simply going into class with more confidence about the material.

Tutoring sessions typically range from one to 12 people. While they normally take place in Academic Services, it is also possible to meet elsewhere. Sessions for language classes, for example, normally have fewer people, and it is helpful to meet somewhere a little quieter. The music tutor meets in Slosberg, as there is no piano in the Academic Services space. Some tutors are even on call when there is not a lot of demand for the tutoring, but they are free and happy to meet if a student contacts them.

Nina Spring ’14, a second-semester BUGS tutor, had up to a dozen tutees attend her physics sessions last year, the largest number as of yet. “My goal as a BUGS tutor is to help make physics approachable and manageable for all students,” she explained. Spring tailors each session according to her students and their interests. Some days, they took turns using the whiteboard to teach their peers and work through the problem. “This method allowed students to interact and tackle the problem using all their knowledge collectively,” Spring said. Other days, students worked together in pairs. “I would walk around and spend time with each group, giving them new ways to think about a concept, drawing and creating visuals to help organize material, and support their progress as teams.”

Both Spring and Koslowski emphasized that BUGS is a great way to meet people in the same class and create study groups. “I would see the students at the library in the evenings still working together, and we’d all resume our work at the next session,” Spring stated. “I hope all students reach out to their BUGS tutors and experience the support from fantastic students on campus.”

BUGS has a number of ways to promote the program, which include classroom visits, flyers and Facebook and Twitter pages. However, the most powerful way is by word-of-mouth, as students tell their friends about the positive experiences they had at BUGS. Koslowski noted there is a negative stereotype around tutoring, and BUGS wishes to turn this around.