Case Study: University of Georgia, PLaTO
Updated: Feb 12, 2021
The University of Georgia’s (UGA) peer learning program, PLaTO, employs over 90 peer tutors who serve students by providing academic support, encouragement and innovative approaches to learning. PLaTO offers scheduled appointments, small group study pods and drop-in appointments that had to be suspended due to COVID-19.
Faced with unfamiliar circumstances caused by remote learning, UGA decided to implement
Penji in Fall 2020 to help PLaTO adapt more smoothly. At first, the program’s administrators worried about the major shift since their previous system already had high student engagement. After implementation, however, Penji was able to help restructure PLaTO, significantly increase appointment and study pod participation, and develop a more streamlined program. PLaTO now efficiently connects over 100 individual and study pod appointments per day through Penji.
Tackling Conventional Problems with Modern Technology
With their old system of operations, PLaTO faced several critical issues. Various data were scattered across multiple platforms and tutor schedules were manually managed, leading to disorganization. This high reliance on manual management became especially tricky to maintain when learning went remote. Sarah Cramer, Coordinator of Peer Education, examined PLaTO’s problems and found a common theme: the lack of centralization. From there, she pinpointed specific needs. “Schedule management for tutors, platform integration and efficient data collection,” Cramer recalls. “We knew we’d change if a platform gave us those.”
Challenge #1: Data collection across tutoring modes required multiple platforms and meticulous manual management
PLaTO used many Qualtrics forms to collect data, with three “just for feedback,” Cramer details. Meanwhile, UGA’s internal platform managed scheduled appointments. Simultaneously using several platforms led to inconsistent data tracking and confusion among administrators and tutors.
Solution #1: Accessible through both desktop and a mobile app, the Penji platform singularly handles appointments, drop-ins and study pods and converges all data into a real-time data dashboard
“We love the data dashboard. We can make real-time program changes, track appointment utilization, hire efficiently and ensure that students are satisfied,” Cramer says.
Data centralization also broadens PLaTO’s marketing reach, directing resources toward more areas of high demand. “From the data, we can see how many courses we can add tutoring for,” Cramer states. Extending tutoring resources to more courses helps PLaTO diversify, targeting a wider variety of students interested in tutoring.
Challenge #2: Admin-controlled tutor schedules led to inefficient program spending
Before Penji, administrators manually assigned tutoring schedules. Any scheduling adjustments like cancellations required administrative approval first -- a manual and time-consuming process. “Tutors would come into my office with questions all the time,” Cramer says. Compounding this issue, their inefficient scheduling system led to a higher reliance on drop-ins, during which PLaTO paid for many tutor-hours not spent serving students.
Solution #2: With Penji, tutors create their own schedules and can discuss appointment details directly with students, reducing administrator workloads and increasing tutor autonomy
Initially, Cramer was hesitant to make this change. “It was hard to grasp because we’ve always had control over their schedules,” Cramer explains, “but, Penji allows for much more tutor autonomy.” Now, sessions work around tutors’ schooling, yielding more delivered tutor-hours. Additionally, the time spent tutoring is recorded automatically, leading to more accurate tutor pay. The final and possibly largest value is that tutors now input all of their available hours. Penji automatically limits their input to a certain number of appointments per week, providing more accommodating time slots for students while also controlling program costs. “Penji helped us directly meet students’ and tutors’ needs,” Cramer notes.
Understandably, switching to Penji during the COVID-19 pandemic initially made tutors anxious. "They were worried about receiving their hours and whether online tutoring would work,” Cramer says. But, the nervousness didn’t last long. “Once the tutors learned they could make their own schedules using Penji, they loved the change.”
Since going remote, most programs in the United States have seen declines in appointment utilization across the board. PLaTO, however, saw major growth in both appointments and study pods, compensating for the loss of in-person drop-ins.
Fall 2019 versus Fall 2020
PLaTO was able to offer 143% more courses for peer tutoring compared to last Fall, due in large to a more organized program.
Study pods delivered increased from 5 to 55 study pods, 817% more than last Fall.
Tutors conducted 191% more appointments than last Fall, successfully replacing the interactions lost by removing drop-ins.
As for Penji’s overall impact, “Penji has pushed us away from having complete control over the tutors. They are perfectly capable [of working on their own]. This frees up time to work on more important tasks,” Cramer says. “We're really enjoying Penji. Students and tutors are very happy using it, and I’m excited to see what happens in Spring now that everyone’s familiar with Penji.”