Peer Learning and Mentoring Scheme Toolkit

<strong>Peer Learning and Mentoring Scheme Toolkit</strong>

The Cathedrals Group and HEA Peer Learning and Mentoring Scheme Toolkit has been designed as part of a joint project “Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across the Cathedrals Mission Group“.

The project was between the Cathedrals Group, Leeds Trinity University and the Higher Education Academy and ran from July 2016 - February 2017. It sought to identify and showcase practice in  Student Peer Assisted Learning and / or Mentoring Schemes which exist within The Cathedrals Group. This toolkit was one of the project outcomes, along with the Practice Directory, Case Study Compendium, Project Report and this project web page. It is intended to offer support to all colleagues who may wish to:

  • Revise and / or enhance an existing scheme
  • Design a new scheme.

Each section is intended either to be viewed in order or for you to select specific issues and themes that interest you.

Eight Key Issues

This toolkit was developed to support the development and enhancement of new and existing schemes and identified 8 key issues of concern with 27 themes and 88 sub themes.  The toolkit is designed to support colleagues looking to develop a scheme from the beginning or to evaluate their own scheme to see how it could be improved/enhanced/updated.

Strategic Intent


Scope & Focus

Mentoring schemes

Academic PAL

Ownership and

Outcomes and

Community of

Strategic Intent

Having a clear link with Institutional Strategic Priorities is crucial. This helps to:

  • enable clarity of purpose
  • position the scheme as a priority
  • facilitate visibility among senior managers and the executive team
  • ensure all colleagues and students to appreciate its significance.

The three themes of Strategic Intent are also identified here.

Formal links to institutional strategic priorities - Fits with Institutional / Faculty Vision, Mission, Strategy, Aspirations
- Links to Policy documents
- Complements (AVOID competition with) other projects
- Horizon-scan to ensure awareness of the broader sector issues/initiatives
This ensures overall clarity of a scheme’s mission and purpose, makes clear links with the university aspirations and locates it as a significant project. It also contributes to institutional clarity on individual projects and potential congruence and overlap between them.
Drivers for scheme initiation & purpose - Clarity on why the scheme is needed
- What value will it add?
- How will it respond to key concerns? e.g. transition, retention, achievement, TEF- NSS & other metrics
Each scheme will have its own reasons for creation and continuity. It is important to be able to state why the scheme is needed and what value it adds. Doing this by making specific links with relevant, established university and sector-wide themes e.g. transition, retention, NSS is also helpful. 
Main focus - Drill down into key intention and identify specifics e.g. to raise attainment rates on specific  year 1 modules, to improve  retention in late entry year 1 students
- Define clearly the student groups it targets
Clarity is also required in relation to the main focus of each scheme. Who is it intended for? E.g. is it for all students or specific groups? What is it trying to achieve with these students?

Organisational Commitment

Achieving organisational commitment is important, since this helps to ensure:

  • the scheme receives recognition and SUPPORT from executive and managerial staff
  • commands a stronger position when decisions need to be made regarding budget, resources including staffing
  • plans can be made for continuation and, where relevant, growth of the scheme.

The three themes of Organisational Commitment are also identified here. 

Executive commitment - Ensure at least one member of Executive supports this scheme, usually VC/DVC/PVC Academic
- Identify what needs to be done to catch their attention & meet their needs
Achieving executive commitment helps visibility of a scheme and may emerge as a result of varied circumstances e.g. through line management relationships, responsibility for cross-university themes, specific interest and supervision of projects and initiatives.  An appreciation of the specific information that an executive colleague requires from your scheme, e.g. contribution to metrics, is essential here.
Management support  - Pay attention to managers concerns – what do they need from this scheme?
- Ensure regular dialogue, updates, data, identify challenges & solutions 
- Create evidence-based record of effectiveness
A line manager, especially if they are a service or department head, has many demands on their time and budgets. Ensuring they have current  knowledge of your scheme, together with headline data, statistics and arguments regarding value will help them recognise the value of the scheme and to promote it in university circles to which scheme leaders may not have access. 
Funding and Future proofing - Be clear about the available budget and timeframe
- Know and plan for intended duration and scope of the project
- If greater funds are sought, identify timescales and  funding strategy – explore alternatives and have a back-up plan
Schemes often start out without clear budgets, resources, specific targets. Try to define these as tightly as possible, so that decisions can be informed by relevant data.  Many schemes gain the attention of students and can experience unexpected and rapid  growth rates, so without careful monitoring and planning demand can rapidly exceed supply.

Scope and Focus

Clarity around the purpose of the project is supported and enacted by defining parameters around who the scheme is intended to help. This means being clear about the student participants who are to be the Mentors and the mentees. Clarity around scope and focus also enables activities to be carried out in partnership with relevant student groups, and may in turn also facilitate links with other institutional groups, projects, schemes and initiatives.

The three themes of Scope and Focus are also identified here.

Intended Student group - Who is the scheme for – student level, home & EU, international, specific groups? U/G, PGT, PGR?
- What is it FOR – e.g. Study Skills, Academic Writing, Pastoral Support, Disciplinary knowledge & skills
- Will ALL students in the defined groups be eligible?  Likely numbers?
Three main sets of decisions are required: who the scheme is designed for; what is it intended to achieve for that group of students; the numbers of students that the scheme is designed (and resourced) to support. E.g.– a scheme designed to support transition in students in their first year may be open to all students, or all students in their first term, or only those who entered through late access/Clearing etc. Such decisions should have clear links back to the strategic intentions and defined purpose of the scheme.
Students as Partners - How best can the scheme benefit from Student involvement ?
- In Design?  Promotion?  Training? Evaluation?  Dissemination & Publication?
- Students as Partners:- Producers, Researchers, Change Agents
There are many opportunities for students to be actively involved as partners, producers, researchers, change agents. These are likely to increase ownership, satisfaction and engagement and might include: As producers - students prepare publicity materials, promote the benefits of the scheme, contribute to decisions about design and delivery As researchers - students are actively involved in evaluation processes (data gathering, analysis etc) As change agents - experienced mentors assisting in selection, training and/or supervision of new mentors, proposing changes to scheme delivery etc. 
Institutional links - What already exists that can be useful (in/external) eg HEAR, Institutional recognition and rewards  for volunteering, student employability  schemes, staff project funding, NUS projects, student representatives & ambassadors
- Consult others with relevant knowledge, experience, enthusiasm  & ideas
Active links with other institutional  initiatives are invaluable, help to consolidate the scheme and may even provide assistance with difficult tasks and processes.

Design-mentoring schemes

Mentoring schemes require considerable design and planning in preparation for the scheme operation. Most of this planning needs to be undertaken well in advance, ideally so that materials and processes - particularly those around  promotion, recruitment and training for mentors - are available the year before they are needed.

The five themes of Design-Mentoring Schemes are also identified here.

Key features - Purpose of Mentoring – pastoral, skills, disciplinary
- Target student group(s) for Mentors and Mentees
- Mode of delivery – face-to-face/on-line, pre-/post-arrival, one-to-one/groups
- Duration of mentor/mentee contact – long or short, time-limited or open? 
Schemes can be operated in a variety of formats suitable for the purpose and target groups. Decisions will be influenced by available and existing resources, institutional preference etc.
Advertising and Publicity - Identify successful methods for institution – social media etc
- Incentives & motivators, recognition, reward, remuneration?
- Student voice and academic support
- Timelines–start year before, fit institutional timetable, clear application process
Try to actively involve students and promote the benefits of participation.  Use methods suitable to reach your students. Avoid any hint of remedial activity. Clarify any opportunities for remuneration, recognition and/or reward.
Mentor recruitment and selection - Clarity in role and scope – define required knowledge, skills, behaviours
- Choose methods & selection criteria – formal written application, interview, activity, experience, achievement
- Who will  be involved in this process?
Plan this activity early, so that students can be recruited in time to complete training before the summer holidays, and can return to university ready to use their knowledge and skills at the start  the next academic year.
Mentee application - Will target students need to Opt -IN or Opt –OUT?  Compulsory or voluntary?
- Written application form, demographics, personal preference requests?
- Matching /pairing of mentor with mentee(s) preferences?
Decisions regarding voluntary or compulsory participation; opt-in/opt-out and any requests/matching processes need to be transparent and rigorously applied.
Training and support - Training programme for mentors & mentees?  Student involvement in delivery? Content & delivery? Scheduled?
- Define follow-up methods, sources of ongoing support, intervention if problems arise
Try to involve experienced student mentors in training and ongoing support. Identify and advertise timescales early, schedule  and book space for events, ensure adequate time to prepare materials, especially if on-line.  Will you offer induction /introduction events for mentees in addition to mentors? What arrangements will you put in place for ongoing support for mentors? These might be on-line, or face-to-face individually or as a group, and may be conducted by staff or experienced mentors.

Design-Academic Peer Assisted Learning

Academic programmes utilise a very wide range of approaches which all fall under the ‘umbrella term’ of peer assisted learning.  Some academic programmes use activities designed to support students learning together in pairs, or small groups while others may use a localised and disciplinary-specific version of mentoring schemes that may or may-not be in existence within the wider university. In all cases, decisions will still need to be taken that identify intention, purpose, student groups, whether participation is voluntary or compulsory, links with formative and/or summative assessment, timing and resources etc.

The four themes of Design–Academic Peer Assisted Learning are also identified here.

Key features - Purpose of peer assisted learning activity – skills, knowledge, behaviour?
- Type- mentoring, learning together, practice & rehearsal, revision
- Mode- pairs, trios, quads, groups; on-line, face-to-face
- Duration of activity – long or short, time-limited or open, fixed sessions? 
Approaches may be linked to whole programmes, or set years, modules or activities e.g. during placement, key topics and/or revision tutoring, group research projects etc. Ensure the selected approaches and activities are tightly defined.
Links to academic programme/module - Links to Intended Learning Outcomes - Links to formative/summative assessment? Individual or with peers? - Promoted, scheduled and timetabled within programme  timetable? Ensure the activities have clear links to the programme/module Learning Outcomes and feature within the programme/module specification and handbook. Clarity around any links to formative and summative assessment is essential. Planning and scheduling sufficient time and space for these activities and obvious academic support and encouragement for participation are vitally important.
Participation - Incentives & Motivators, Recognition, Reward, Remuneration?
- Matching, choice in partner, group
- Timelines– during one specific module, or whole programme
- Same or cross year, cross-module, cross-programme
Voluntary/optional activities may require more encouragement to motivate participation. Clarify processes especially if partner/group matching (and monitoring) is required. Handbooks, guidance, student produced materials including videos and blogs are all helpful. Will recruitment and selection (of mentors) be required?
Training and Support - Training programme for those involved?
- Student involvement in delivery and content?
- Methods of support, intervention if problems arise
Formal induction/ training / support processes are invaluable, and essential if mentoring  is involved.  Involvement of experienced students in these processes can be very useful. Be prepared for  issues to arise, be clear about available support, options, alternatives and penalties (if relevant as may be the case when linked to summative assessment) in place if students experience difficulties (e.g. personality clash, unequal participation, timetable constraints etc)

Ownership and Operation

Schemes are owned and operated in a variety of ways. Ideally, a scheme has a clear link to a particular team, department, service, academic programme or faculty. Clarity over lines of accountability, staffing (shared and/or dedicated posts, paid or voluntary), budget and available resources is similarly essential.

The three themes of Ownership and Operation are also identified here.

Central or local - Define key provision – avoid uncertainty & ambiguity
- Delivery on one or more campuses? University wide? Fixed to one programme, discipline, department, faculty, campus?
- Offered to strategic partners?
Avoidance of uncertainty and ambiguity is aided by clarity in provision. Clear lines of ownership and accountability support decision-making about aspects of provision and delivery. Earlier strategic planning  guides choices e.g. extent of delivery about cross-campuses or to strategic partners, subsequently managed at an operational level.
Staffing and management - What is the  amount and duration of available  resource
- Potential for new posts? Student /alumni internships/staff secondments? Volunteers?
- Ensure duties fit available staff resource
- Plans to stimulate/ accommodate growth in student numbers
Clarity over available staffing is essential, since this supports and enables decisions regarding provision to  be successfully enacted. Similarly, staffing as a resource is also a major consideration in discussions of planning and feasibility.  Innovative arrangements such as cross-role sharing, internships, hourly payments, and/or volunteering may enable services to grow.
Budget and resources - Is there a defined source of ring-fenced funding?
- Ensure this is tightly defined, clear & understood
- Identify and acknowledge reasonable constraints that budget requires eg numbers, activities
- Will student mentors be paid or volunteer?
Although some scheme budgets and resources will be shared and others will be ring-fenced, all budgets are usually finite. Therefore, it is essential to have a working knowledge (even if you are not the budget holder) of what is required for scheme operation. This can be critical if the scheme is gaining momentum, data suggests success, interest is growing and there is potential for expansion. Budget essentials will therefore contribute positively to decision-making regarding scheme development and growth.

Outcomes and Impact

Evaluation of scheme success is vital since it enables effectiveness on a range of measures to be evidenced. These are likely to include identified Key Performance Indicators for the scheme and will usually include qualitative and quantitative data.  Ideally evidence will be drawn from several sources including individual participant feedback and larger-scale cohort analysis linked to identified metrics. 

Dissemination  of findings through institutional and sector-wide opportunities for scholarship and research  are also important aspects of the bigger picture here.

The three themes of Outcomes and Impact are also identified here.

Regular participant evaluation - Build-in formal data gathering pre/ during / after activity
- Monitor activity and workload
- Explore perceptions of developing skills, benefits, challenges, satisfaction
- Quality enhancement & assurance – feedback loop 
Mentor/mentee induction and training is an ideal place to ensure all requirements and opportunities for participant  feedback and evaluation are identified and understood. This provides regular, standardised  and valuable opportunities for student views to be heard and responded to, ensures quality assurance of the scheme and contributes important data for scheme evaluation.
KPIs and comparison of data sets with other metrics - Ensure KPIs and data sets are clearly defined at outset
- Collaborate with, engage and enlist a range of colleagues to support data analysis
- Demographics, retention, attainment, progression, skills, perceptions, activity logs
- Analysis of metrics for Mentors & Mentees
All schemes are encouraged to clearly define the KPIs, metrics and data sets which are relevant to their schemes, institutional priorities and practices.  Crucially, exploring opportunities for data sets to be linked at institutional level enables finer-grain analysis of cohorts according to selected variables and metrics. More penetrating exploration of outcomes for participants across several parameters (including retention, attainment, skill development etc) is thus enabled in addition to provision of invaluable evidence supporting scheme performance.
Scholarship and research - Dissemination – share and promote approach & outcomes
- Publication and presentation
- Partnership with other providers?
- Students as researchers e.g. present at Undergraduate conferences
Opportunities for scholarship and research in this area of practice are essential if their value to students is to be more widely shared and acknowledged. These may range from dissemination at institutional learning and teaching conferences through to presentation and publication in inter/national and peer reviewed conferences and publications.

Community of Practice

Developing a Community of Practice in this area offers invaluable opportunities to explore issues and outcomes with others involved in similar activities. Co-operation, collaboration and co-creation are all enabled and assist in a range of issues such as problem-solving, design and dissemination.  Communities may be linked to single issues e.g. student peer mentoring or may be more thematic, incorporating a range of issues such as those linked to the broad heading of Retention or Transition. 

The three themes of Community of Practice are also identified here. 

Academic and professional service colleagues - Avoid working in a vacuum – ensure working alliances and collaborations
- Use your networks – or create them!
- Build a Community of Practice involving ALL stakeholders from outset
- Encourage academic and professional services collaboration
A community of practice creates opportunities for a range of different colleagues and stakeholders to collaborate and explore shared issues. Colleagues are often from academic and professional services and may involve students too. Other communities of practice may identify more specific  requirements for participation according to its focus e.g. programme or scheme leaders, academic co-ordinators etc.
Student body and alumni - Create a Mentor network to share practice, challenges, solutions, elite benefits e.g. cv writing support
- Involve students in promotion, training, evaluation, dissemination
- Alumni support your scheme – e.g. in mentors selection and support
A mentor network for students enables practice to be shared and issues to be discussed. It also provides fertile ground from which to grow new ideas, facilitate active student engagement in scheme development and promotion and identify potential Students as Partners collaborations.
Institutional, local and inter/national - Create local networks - scheme support, host events, showcase practice, enhance knowledge
- Engage in research collaborations, presentations & publications
- Participate in intern/national networks & communities
Where local links and communities exist, within or beyond an institution - use them, where they don’t  - create them! These are invaluable for idea sharing, dissemination, sharing common challenges, finding solutions to existing problems, identifying potential for scholarship and research opportunities and collaboration.

Top tips from Cathedrals Group Scheme Leaders

As part of the project, Scheme Leaders were invited to offer ideas and suggestions from their own experience that might help others who wish to establish or enhance a scheme. 

  • Create a scheme to meet identified needs
  • Ensure clear links between structure, operation and outcomes
  • Identify goals and outcomes  for mentoring sessions
  • Give mentors opportunities to promote their activities
  • Give careful consideration to marketing and promotion:  ‘proactive not remedial’
  • Ensure sufficient planning ahead – especially for recruitment, selection and training before academic year starts
  • Participation levels vary between disciplines and over time – effective publicity essential
  • Remember pre-entry numbers can vary considerably from those expected
  • Be versatile – consider short drop-in sessions alongside longer appointments
  • Identify appropriate space for PAL/PM activity
  • Promote scheme and build relations with academic staff
  • Embedding schemes into academic programmes enhances student commitment and helps timetabling
  • Recognition and reward are valued – payment not essential
  • Manage student expectations – e.g. clarify if ‘matching’ to mentee preferences is available
  • Academic programme – use mentoring /peer learning to support areas of common difficulty within curriculum and identify specific sessions