Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across The Cathedrals Group
A Compendium of Case Studies has been produced as part of the joint Higher Education Academy / The Cathedrals Group / Leeds Trinity University project ‘Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across the Cathedrals Group’. It is intended to showcase and illuminate the rich range of practice within the group.
You can download the compendium on this page.
Each institutional participant within the project was invited to select one of the schemes / programmes in current operation that best illustrates their current practice. Although several institutions operate more than one scheme, only one case study per institution was permitted. This is one such case study.
Nature and focus of scheme
Year one and three undergraduate students together with a small number of postgraduate students are trained as PASS Leaders and deliver weekly peer-assisted study sessions (PASS) primarily for year one students. A number of academic schools are currently involved across the three campuses, Carmarthen, Lampeter and Swansea, which make up the university. PASS activity tends to be directed towards those courses that have historically been regarded as problematic. A small number of specialist support lecturers have been trained as PASS Supervisors and deliver the PASS Leader training and weekly debriefs; one member of staff co-ordinates the scheme.
PASS began at the University of Wales Trinity St David (UWTSD) in 2015 as a pilot project on the Lampeter campus. ‘PASS’ refers to ‘peer-assisted study sessions’ first introduced in Manchester during the 1980s. PASS sessions are run by students, for students and their aim is to facilitate learning; no teaching is involved at all. In addition to its inherent benefits, the potential was seen for PASS to meet any gaps caused by the forthcoming inevitable reductions in Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). As a result, seven members of staff were identified and trained as PASS supervisors including the current co-ordinator, Michèle Wright.
Taking part in PASS sessions as either a leader or participant is seen as voluntary although it is strongly encouraged. Efforts are made to timetable sessions appropriately so that students find it easy to attend – that is, not Friday afternoon at 4pm! Sandwiching sessions between lectures has been found to be the most effective way of timetabling PASS. Observations are carried out on a termly basis to ensure consistency of provision and to provide valuable feedback to the leaders.
As yet, there are no academic credits attached to the scheme although this is currently under review.
Key resource implications
An initial budget of £30,000 per annum was allocated from the Student Experience budget to cover the cost of PASS supervisor training, payments to supervisors for leader training and administration and for other expenses such as catering for training and the celebration event. PASS leaders are not paid, but receive an Amazon gift voucher on completion of training together with a hoody – these have proved very popular and act not only as a ‘badge of belonging’ but also publicise the scheme both on and off campus.
Supervisors currently undertake many unpaid hours of work in order to facilitate the scheme and this issue will be need to be addressed in the next budget meeting. At present, the scheme cannot afford to expand very much more due to budgetary constraints. The Supervisors all have other contracted posts within the university and PASS work is undertaken on a zero hours’ basis. Staff are restricted regarding how many hours of work per week that they may undertake so it is proving difficult to see how any extension to the scheme can be undertaken. One possible way that has been identified is for postgraduate students (who have been leaders while undergraduates) to take over some or all of the supervisors’ tasks. This would solve the time constraint but would still require an increase in funding as it is felt that postgraduate students should be paid for time they spend on PASS.
Training and development of mentors/mentees
PASS leader training is developed and led by the trained PASS supervisors. Training takes place at the beginning of the academic year and is spread over the equivalent of two full days at times to suit students and staff. The Leaders then deliver PASS sessions in pairs and attend a weekly debrief with the PASS supervisors and a member of academic staff from the module concerned. In this way, a constant feedback cycle is generated which assists the leaders to highlight any problems within their sessions swiftly and enables academic staff to constantly refine their modules.
A special PASS event is held during May to celebrate the achievements of the PASS leaders. All leaders receive a certificate and an accompanying sheet that lists the training they have undertaken together with the skills they have utilised during their time as leaders. This can then be incorporated into their CV as we do know that employers actively seek out applicants who have been PASS leaders due to their enhanced communication, facilitation and presentation skills.
How the scheme engages and supports students
Reactions to PASS vary from campus to campus and from subject to subject. Some of our most enthusiastic PASS devotees (both students and staff) are from the School of Social Justice and Inclusion. The mechanism which the PASS sessions provide for students to share their concerns and then to have their learning facilitated by PASS leaders who may have met the same problems themselves in previous years seems to suit this cohort particularly well. Many of the students are mature and lack self-confidence with regard to academic work. The PASS sessions provide a safe place for them to share any difficulties and develop their academic skills. PASS sessions do not only deal with academic issues but also exist to provide and signpost pastoral support. Many first year students are living away from home for the first time and PASS provides a way to meet other students in a relaxed atmosphere and to find out what the university and local environment has to offer.
Evidence of value, effectiveness and impact
An evaluation report was commissioned during the pilot project that clearly identified areas of success together with those requiring further attention. In addition, we are undertaking a research project based on the Lampeter campus as part of our teaching and learning enhancement theme. This project is concerned with investigating the best way to evaluate PASS as we understand the necessity of producing hard figures to prove the effectiveness of the scheme. We do have a large body of qualitative evidence that overwhelmingly supports PASS.
The key challenges are:
- to continue to build on the successful PASS schemes running on the Lampeter and Carmarthen campuses and to make the scheme a success at Swansea. The fragmented nature of the Swansea campus (based on many sites across the city) is seen as one of the main reasons why it has been difficult to make any headway;
- as we have a large number of distance learners, we are investigating the ways in which PASS can support those students;
The most notable lessons learned are as follows:
- try not to do too much too quickly;
- buy-in of academic staff is critical;
- timetabling of PASS sessions is tricky but essential;
- maintaining momentum is difficult – we are exploring ways to do this;
- staffing issues are complex and proper contracts and funding are required.