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
The mentoring scheme provided support for students to develop and enhance their academic writing skills. The service is aimed at all levels of ability ranging from students who are having difficulties with aspects of academic writing to those who have a good writing style but wish to enhance it and potentially improve their marks. The mentors are recruited from our Masters and PhD students. We try to appoint mentors from across the three Faculties, but this is not always possible. Mentors have to demonstrate a good understanding of academic writing and also the ability to share their experience and knowledge.
Support is delivered through pre-booked one-to-one appointments, workshops, and drop-ins, and is available to students from all levels of study at the point(s) in their course where they need support. Some tutors will recommend students come to the service but it is the student who books the appointment. We get student referrals from colleagues in Mental Health Support and Disability Support. The mentoring scheme was set up in 2013-14 and the mentors provided 196 appointments this has grown to 501 appointments in 2015-16. Some students will have a single appointment while others may have several with either the same mentor or several mentors. We have also experienced students using the service at different stages of their studies so a student may come in the first year for help with structure and then in third year for dissertation support. Where possible, we avoid a student being mentored by a mentor who has studied the same subject. If a student has issues that are not directly related to their writing, they will be referred to other support, for example, the Faculty Librarian or subject tutor.
We also provide regular workshops, these started off focusing on exam and revision techniques. We now have a programme of sessions – for example, Structure, Critical Writing, Proof Reading, Dissertations – which students can book onto online. We have also provided tailored sessions for specific groups, for example, international students, School Direct, etc. Support is offered at both campuses with most appointments Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm, but we can be flexible and offer later times for students on placements. We have also provided email support for students who cannot attend a face-to-face session, but these are more challenging for the mentors. Drop-in sessions are used at busy times for students with quick queries – for example, referencing – and these would provide the student with up to 20 minutes of a mentor’s time.
Key resource implications
The mentors are paid roles and the current rate is £8.30 an hour. This is funded centrally and we submit an annual budget request, which has a breakdown of the number of appointments, workshops, drop-ins, training and meeting hour requirements. We have been able to request additional funding mid-year if there has been a need to increase the number of appointments available. We have a dedicated space that the mentors use for their appointments which is in a prominent location off the library foyer. This is close to a collection of study-skills books.
Day-to-day management of the service sits with the Learning Skills and Spaces Co-ordinator who, as well as all of the administrative and data collection tasks, supports the mentor team, develops materials such as workshop presentations, and manages the service web page which included links to external materials as well as resources produced in-house by the mentors.
Training and development of mentors/mentees
The mentor team once appointed are provided with a group training programme which consists of the following:
- What makes a good mentor and Good mentoring skills? This session also covers the process and procedures. If there is a mentor who is continuing in the role from the previous year, then they are invited to the session to share their experience and their top tips/resources (half a day);
- academic writing support training from a senior academic who has a research interest in academic literacies. This included how to identify what type of writer they are to using free writing and other techniques (half a day);
- sessions from our Senior Learning Advisor, Mental Health Support Worker, and a Faculty Librarian so mentors are aware of these services and referral processes (1 hour each);
- running workshops: a Faculty Librarian shares their experience of running sessions including advice on interaction and engaging students (1 hour).
Throughout the year, the mentors have fortnightly meetings that provide the opportunity to reflect on workshops and appointments, share their experiences and seek advice from the rest of the team. They discuss resources and identify any new materials that need to be produced. There is also the opportunity to invite subject tutors to attend to discuss academic writing in their subject or to have additional sessions on academic literacies or anything else the mentors feel that they would benefit from. Mentors can also attend University staff training sessions, for example, producing resources for students with disabilities.
After about two to three months of mentoring, the mentors are observed by one of the Faculty Librarians in one of their one-to-one sessions and receive constructive feedback identifying the positive and suggestions of any improvements that can be made.
The Learning Skills and Spaces Co-ordinator organises the training programme and the meetings.
How the scheme engages and supports students
Students are made aware of the support that is available in a range of ways including:
- at Fresher’s Fayre;
- introductions to the service as part of a subject or library lecture or seminar;
- signposting from other University staff, for example, academic staff, Student Services, course reps, residential tutors;
- Student Bulletin, webpage, Student Union webpage.
Many students indicate that they find out about the mentors from friends or colleagues who have used the service. Students will also move between the different support formats; so a student may initially attend a workshop and then follow up with a one to one appointment.
We use student feedback to identify topics for workshops and the mentors are able to focus on the issues related to that topic that they are encountering in the one to one sessions into the workshop. We have tried to make the workshops more interactive, this has mixed results and can be problematic for the mentors in small groups and also where the students are from across a wide range of subjects and different levels. Student contributions tend to work best in subject sessions. We ensure that the students have handouts of the core concepts and resources to take away so they can then try them out.
The mentors themselves have expressed how much they learn from the mentoring process and that they can see it improving their own writing styles.
Evidence of value, effectiveness and impact
We collect and collate information from both one to one sessions and workshops to assess the reach and effectiveness of the service. Students complete a registration form, and from this data about their course, gender, level or study, if they are international, and any disability is extracted to produce annual statistics and this can be compared across the three full years the scheme has been in place. Students are also asked to complete a feedback form and again this data is collected and recorded. At the end of an academic year the data is used to produce an annual report that is considered at the University’s Student Services Group.
Student feedback is overwhelmingly positive with most students rating the service “extremely helpful” or “helpful”, and when asked if the session had met their needs a common response is “Yes and more”. Students are also asked to indicate which topics they would attend a workshop on and these responses are used to plan the workshop programme. Students are also asked for feedback on the workshops. Again feedback has been positive and improved over time, so in 2015-16 for the ‘Exam and Revision Techniques’ workshops, the proportion of students rating the sessions as “extremely helpful” increased from 42% the year before to 67%, an increase of 25%.
We have also had anecdotal feedback from tutors indicating an improvement in students’ performance. Some examples of student feedback include:
Helped a lot with how to plan and structure my assignment. Gave examples of really helpful websites to use
I feel that everything I felt worried about was covered, to assure me I can do better
I feel I am now able to go away and make a start in applying the correct format/approach to my assignment. All really positive!
A lot of genuine care and help from the mentor, this was a really comfortable session. Lots of useful information to take on into the future to help me.
Initially we scheduled appointments for both of our campuses on the same pattern but it soon became clear that the take up at our Creative Campus was not at the same level as the main campus. This was partly due to the smaller number of students but also due to the nature of the subjects studied at the Creative campus where the students are undertaking a wider range of assessment types not wholly dependent on writing as in other subjects. We now take the approach that we schedule a mentor to go to the Creative campus when a student is wholly based there and so does not come to the main campus.
We have made adjustments across the three years of the service to learn from our experiences. Examples include the introduction of the drop-in sessions to try and enable more students to be seen by a mentor, and so students with a relatively easily solved issue, which does not require a full one-to-one session, are dealt with more efficiently. The workshops have also seen changes from subject based to sessions available to all. We are currently using the University’s Online Store system to enable students to book on to sessions, we are currently reflecting on our experience of this and trying to deal with issues such as students being able to double book onto the same session on different dates and also to be able to have a waiting list when a session becomes fully booked.
Another difficulty has been finding a way to reduce the number of no-shows, which waste appointments or places on a workshop. We are currently trialing sending students an appointment for which they have to confirm their attendance using Google Calendar. There has been some improvement, and it also seems to identify any problems with an appointment time earlier in the process.
We are about to pilot a study skills mentors scheme in January which will be very strongly modelled on the writing mentors. The driver for this is the DSA funding changes and aims to put in place alternatives to ensure students continue to received access to study skills support. Besides filling this gap, we want to make the services we offer as inclusive as possible so all students can benefit from them. Topics to be covered will include time management and scheduling, organising work and resources, note taking, using University online systems (e.g. VLE), and presentation skills.