Final Report

Below you will find a copy of the final report submitted to the Institute of Learning and Teaching who kindly funded this project and associated research.

Final Report

(For projects funded by the Learning and Teaching Enhancement and Innovation Fund 2018-19)

Project title

Exchanging experience: a peer-assisted learning approach to mentoring

Project aims and objectives 

Intended aims and objectives Achieved in full? Comments
Pilot a redesigned approach to peer to peer mentoring on the programme BA Childhood and Youth Yes The redesigned mentoring scheme was piloted across the academic year 18/19. Four peer-assisted learning sessions were facilitated across the year engaging staff from BA Childhood and Youth and Learning Development. Students from courses BA Childhood and Youth and BA Education Studies were engaged in the project as mentors and mentees.
Engage students at levels 4 and 5 in mentoring and peer-assisted learning activities across the academic year 2018-2019 Partially The project engaged 3 students at level 5 as mentors and 4 students at level 4 as mentees. Over 60 level 5 students and 30 level 4 students were informed about the project through marketing activities on NILE. Student engagement was very low with only 6% of the students informed taking part. Further to this 1 of the mentors only attended one meeting before dropping out due to a change in personal circumstance.
Evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot project by gathering stakeholder opinions. Yes-although return rates were low Interviews were completed with all staff involved, 2 of the mentors and 1 of the mentees. Observations were completed of all sessions. Feedback was gathered from participants at each session and a questionnaire was completed by 1 level 4 student who did not attend. The data was thematically collated and analysed.

Project outputs and deliverables 

Intended outputs and deliverables Achieved in full? Comments
A trialled model for an integrated mentor, personal tutor and peer-assisted learning approach to support students in their first year of study in HE Yes The model has been designed and delivered across the academic year 18/19. Lessons have been learnt feeding into development in the year 19/20.
A trialled model offering additional academically supported development opportunities for students in their second year of study Yes Development opportunities have been provided through one to one support from tutors to support students to design and deliver student facilitated study skills and pastoral support sessions. Narratives from the mentors demonstrate that this activity supported their academic and personal development.
Thorough evaluation of the pilot project documenting findings and outcomes Yes Several evaluation activities have occurred:

·       Feedback forms completed by mentees at each session

·       Interviews completed with mentors, mentees and staff involved in the project

·       Observations of mentor facilitated study skills sessions completed

·       Questionnaire completed by level 4 students who did not attend

Completed project blog documenting process and findings Yes Blog is up to date with monthly entries completed across the academic year. The project lead, personal tutor to the first years and research assistant have completed blog posts. The mentors were also asked if they would like to write a post but declined.
Dissemination materials; article and conference presentation; to be shared In progress Activity completed:

·       Poster presentation took place as part of the Learning and Teaching Conference 2019.

·       Project information has been shared with the Midlands Peer Mentoring network.

·       Project evaluation has been shared with colleagues as part of subject group team day.

Activity to be completed:

·       Project evaluation is to be shared with colleagues as part of the weekly bulletin.

·       Project is to be explored as part of discussion at a meeting of the Midlands Peer Mentoring Network.

·       Article to be prepared for publication in internal and external publications.  

Develop a detailed and informative mentor pack. Yes Project lead developed a digital mentor welcome pack which contains essential information related to best practice in the role of mentor to safeguard all student participants. This responds to some of the initial issues identified with the methodology of the existing peer mentor scheme.
Level 5 students design taught sessions which are shared with level 4 participants both face to face and digitally. Yes Level 5 students designed two sessions; ‘A beginners guide to assessment’ and ‘Study buddies: developing relationships and techniques for writing’. These both have relevance to the first-year student experience and can be used as part of the development of the project ongoing.
Online forum is set up for mentors to discuss developing ideas and have asynchronous sessions with project lead to develop teaching materials. Yes A blackboard collaborate space was set up for mentor use however only one mentor visited the space and due to lack of activity did not return. To develop teaching materials the mentors chose to meet with the project lead face to face.

 Project evaluation

A qualitative approach was taken to evaluation with semi structured interviews, observations and questionnaires being utilised to gather stakeholder opinions of the implementation of the model and its impact on student experience. Interviews were completed with staff and students who took part in the project and a questionnaire was shared with level 4 students who did not take part to ascertain what some of the barriers to participation were. Observations were completed for all 4 of the sessions facilitated. Initially focus groups were planned but participation was an issue. One focus group session took place but no students attended. Reflecting on this the research team decided with the low numbers of participants across the project carrying out interviews with all individuals would be possible in gaining detailed insights into stakeholders experiences of the project.

The evaluation sought to discover how both the first and second year students experienced the scheme in relation to; the quality and availability of academic and personal support, opportunities for personal and professional development and the impact of partaking in the scheme on their experience of university academically and personally. Data on the level of engagement demonstrated by student participants was also gathered through the keeping of registers. The findings were analysed thematically to determine the success of the pilot scheme and propose future developments.

Key Findings:

  • The PALM project aims to tackle multidimensional problems that students face inside and outside the university, but impacts on their experience at university. There is agreement in relation to the idea that the PALM project as planned could be effective dealing with some of the students’ problems (academic performance, students’ self-confidence and development of other skills).
  • Students recognise a wide range of positive benefits from their being part of the PALM project. Both mentors and mentees reflect that positive aspects of the project include developing new skills which improved their academic performance, developing confidence and communication skills.
  • Students found a safe space to talk about their concerns as students. They said it was quite nice to realize that other people are having the same issues.
  • Participation of students was identified as the most critical aspect of the project. Both mentors and mentees feel a bit disappointed with the lack of engagement with the project. They feel that students do not value a good opportunity to improve academically, although one of the interviewees also recognises that students have many barriers (work, family and parking) which make more difficult participation in the project.
  • Students value support from peers and lectures, as well as the possibility of developing a wide range of skills under a model of teaching which responds to their individual learning requirements.
  • Staff involved recognise a positive impact of the project on the confidence of both first year and second-year students. They also perceive practical benefits for mentors in terms of improving their CV and being able to demonstrate the required skills for employability.
  • Student participants said they are willing to participate in future and want to encourage other students to be part of the project and take advantage of this opportunity.

Project impact

Intended impact and benefit Achieved in full? Comments
This project will improve the learning experience for students involved through enriching personal and academic support offered at the outset of their journey in HE. Yes Participants who took part in the sessions reported gaining new skills and learning strategies alongside developing their confidence levels.
Second year students involved will gain a range of skills applicable to the workplace. Yes The two student mentors who designed and delivered sessions reported developing their confidence levels, communication skills and gaining new skills required to improve their academic performance.
Through evaluation efficacy can be ascertained and considered in the development of the scheme as part of future practice. Yes A thorough evaluation of the project has occurred with a focus on efficacy. Several positive and critical aspects of the project have been identified which feed directly into future development
Findings can be considered on an institutional basis as part of the review of the Integrated Learner Support program and ongoing mentoring activity. Yes The issue of student engagement was the main critical aspect of the project as identified by the staff and students involved.  It is suspected this may align with some of the findings from evaluation of the ILS scheme in the first year of implementation. Findings will be shared with the research team for the ILS program implementation.
The dissemination of findings will share practice with other programmes at the university and across the sector. Yes The research team are working towards a publication. Findings from the project were disseminated at the Learning and Teaching Conference 2019, the subject team day and within the faculty weekly bulletin. Details of the project were shared with the Midlands Peer Network in written form and will be shared through attendance at network events in September 2019.
Extension of the mentors role to develop relevant student managed online forum for mentor and mentee discussion. Partially Findings from the research identify the need for an effective online discussion forum which is student managed where mentors and mentees can discuss relevant issues.  A highly motivated and engaged mentor has been employed as lead mentor to develop this for launch in September/October 2019.
Student mentor engaged in supporting recruitment process in year 19/20. Yes A student mentor has volunteered their services in supporting mentor recruitment in the projects next year of implementation.
Extension of project Yes For next years project the project lead will be working with the staff second year mentor to collaborate in sharing relevant secondary research on the second year student experince and work together to support student mentors.
Relationship development Yes Working relationships between academics and supporting teams have been strengthened through collaborative working on the project.

Strong supportive relationships have also developed between the mentors and mentees involved in the project. Evidence of the mentoring role has been witnessed in activity taking place between students outside of the scheduled activity.

Dissemination activities

Dissemination activities Impact
Project team will seek to share findings at relevant faculty wide events such as the faculty forum. Updates on the project have been shared with colleagues at subject group meetings and the full evaluation of the project was shared at the team day. The evaluation of the project has been shared in the faculty wide weekly news.  
The project in its entirety will be presented as part of the University of Northampton Teaching and Learning Conference in June 2019. A research poster detailing the project evaluation was presented at the ILT conference on 18th June 2019.
The project team will seek to share details of the project with interested parties within and beyond the university through activity such as; publish the research in a peer reviewed journal and share findings through presentation at conference events. Details of the project methodology have been shared with the Midlands Peer Mentoring Network for consideration and feedback. The project will be verbally shared at a MPMN event in September.

The research team are working on writing a piece for publication.

Project blog will be maintained throughout project and shared with Faculty of Education and Humanities staff. Project blog has been maintained and shared within and beyond the university. The project blog was seen by the Peer Support Manager from Loughborough University who has set up a Midlands Peer Mentoring Network which the PALM project is now part of.

The blog and evaluation of the project are due to be shared as part of Faculty Forum activities.

 Final reflections

Reflecting on PALM there were many positive aspects to the project and participants generally considered it to be a good opportunity for both level 4 and level 5 students. However the critical issue of student engagement features strongly in the findings and has to some degree overshadowed the positive aspects of the project. There are steps which can be taken to strengthen recruitment and participation opportunities for the project but the factors underpinning student engagement are far reaching and beyond the sphere of activity of this project. Although it could be argued that the PALM project could be considered a protective tool to encourage student engagement through; developing students confidence in their academic abilities and sense of belonging at university (Currant and Keenan, 2009; Bryson et al., 2010; Trowler, 2010; Wimpenny and Savin-Baden, 2011), offering opportunities to work closely and develop relationships with peers (Bryson et al. 2012) and engaging students as partners in the co-creation of learning materials and approaches (Kay et al., 2010).

Lessons Learned:

  • PALM sessions need to be timetabled to encourage students to attend.
  • The benefits of participation need to be clearly outlined to students to support engagement.
  • Online forums are the best means of connecting mentors and mentees.

Future Developments:

  • Offer opportunities for mentors to team teach in scheduled taught sessions on first year modules.
  • Offer opportunities for mentors to run drop in sessions for mentees without staff in attendance.
  • Set up a mentor managed online forum for mentees to pose questions to and gain support from the mentors.
  • Project led to work with the Education studies second year mentor to consider additional support for mentors within the programme.

In summary despite being an even smaller project and piece of research than originally planned research has identified positive aspects to the PALM project confirming the research teams feeling that it would offer a positive opportunity to enhance student experience. With this in mind the project lead moves into the second year of implementation with developments in mind which have come direct from the stakeholders and will hopefully help to enhance student engagement in activity which will support their academic and personal development.

References

Bryson, C., Cooper, G. and Hardy, C. (2010), “Reaching a common understanding of the meaning of student engagement”, paper presented at The Society for Research in Higher Education Conference, Celtic Manor, Wales, 14-16 December.

Bryson, C., Humphris, D, James, E. and J. Wintrup (2012) “Emotional work: students, realising, negotiating and overcoming barriers”, Journal of applied research in higher education, Vol 4:2, pp. 170-185

Currant, B. and C. Keenan (2009), ‘Evaluating systematic transition to higher education’, The Brookes Ejournal of Learning and Teaching, 2(4): 191-201

Kay, J., Dunne, E. and Hutchinson, J. (2010), Rethinking The Values For Higher Education – Students As Change Agents?, The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Bristol, available at: www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/ StudentsChangeAgents.pdf

Trowler, V. (2010), Student Engagement Literature Review, The HEA, York, available at: www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/studentengagement/StudentEngagementLiterature Review.pdf [Accessed on: 16 May 2019]

Wimpenny, K. and M. Savin-Baden (2011) ‘Alienation, agency and authenticity: a synthesis of practice and effects in student engagement’, Target journal: Teaching in Higher Education, Available at: http://eprints.worc.ac.uk/3527/1/engagement-qrs-paper-preprint.pdf, [Accessed on 16 May 2019]

Authors: Lisa Shepherd, Dr Kay Calver and Andrea Lizama Loyola

Approaching the PALM project as a researcher

In my role of Research Assistant I had the opportunity of being part of the PALM project. I did attend a couple of mentoring sessions and I did interview those who participated either as organisers, collaborators or participants. We had an in-depth conversation about the project and each one of the interviewees expressed their personal views in relation to the project. As follows I will show some reflections after conducing fieldwork for the evaluation of the PALM project.

First of all, I can say that the PALM project is a well-planned initiative which aims to tackle some of the most important problems that students face during the first year at university: academic performance and integration to university. According to data collected at interviews, it is evident that organisers of this project have a clear idea of students’ needs. There were some previous experiences of tutorials which grounded the design of the PALM project. Students, staff members and all those involved in this project worked hard and made a great effort in planning and implementing this pilot version. There was collaboration from external staff members who did provide methodological advice and material for being used in mentoring sessions. However, as usually happen in almost every project, what is was planned does not work as was expected during the implementation.

In the case of the PALM project, there is strong agreement among interviewees that the low attendance and lack of students’ engagement with the project was the most critical point. There were only a few second-year students motivated with the opportunity of being tutors and no more than four first-year students attended (as mentee) the mentoring sessions. It seems difficult to understand why although it is recognisable that students need to gain study skills which will improve their academic results as well as their experience at university overall, they did not show greater interest for the PALM project. In the case of mentors, of course they are helping on enhancing other students’ skills, but the PALM project is also an opportunity for them, in terms of developing networks with peers and academic staff, gaining more confidence and developing soft skills which are valuable when you start looking for a job.

However, I prefer to focus the attention on those highly motivated students who were part of the PALM project either as mentors or mentees. There was a diverse group of students – in terms of age, gender and life situation – participated in the project. Many of them work outside university; some of them are parents and therefore have family commitments. However, they still have enough motivation and make an additional effort in order to participate in this project. Motivation and self-commitment seem key forces behind those students. They are firstly motivated with their course and university. They are strongly aware that studying at university has been a huge opportunity for them, so they enjoy it as much as they can do it: ‘It’s just something that I have wanted to do always. I never thought I’d do. So I appreciate every second that I’m sitting there, I love learning. I love writing an essay. I just love it’ (Second-year student. Mentor PALM Project). Apart from being motivated, students who participated in the PALM project are aware of the areas that need to improve in order to be better students and have greater opportunities in future. Improvement as students is a priority for them.

By observing both mentors and mentees, we can say that the PALM project was effective on improving skills as students. Their abilities to communicate ideas were noticeable. Mentors planned and delivered sessions (of course with support from staff members) in a competent and engaging manner. Probably they taught topics that they just finished understanding while were preparing a session, but they showed confidence and security on what they were doing. Otherwise, students who participated as mentees gained new skills and learning strategies which help to do better at developing arguments or writing essays. But I also could observe students with confidence to ask questions and share their concerns with others during mentoring sessions. I also could observe how both mentees and mentors took mentoring sessions as an opportunity of approaching their lectures and tutors and ask them about issues discussed in mentoring sessions, but also more general questions related to their course.

From this point of view, I understand that the PALM project was planned as an initiative for every first-year student and therefore it is disappointing that students did not manifest interest in the project. But I want to address that even though just a few students engage with this initiative it has a positive impact on them. In my view, initiatives as the PALM project have a value in order to tackle problems such as social inequality and exclusion within higher education system by enhancing learning strategies, but also cultural capital, social capital and a sense of identity as students (Crozier, Rea, Clayton, & Grinstead, 2008). Additionally, in a context of credential devaluation, undergraduate degrees are not enough. Students’ soft skills and engagement with extra curricula activities are pivotal for getting a graduate job (Tomlinson, 2008) and the PALM project has been successful on enhancing those abilities on students. Of course, several changes are needed in order to make the project more suitable to different students’ needs and requirements. I would suggest paying attention to those more structural and intersectional barriers such as class, race and gender that affect students’ experience at University (Reay, Crozier, & Clayton, 2010). It is not responsibility of the project to tackle those barriers, but they need to be considered as external factors that have an impact on the PALM project. For example, as was said, most of students works and have other sort of commitments, so it would be recommendable to privilege methodologies based on individual (mentor and mentees) tutorials. Finally, it would be also recommendable to develop a virtual space of meeting between mentors and mentees which they could access while they are not at university which might bring participation of more first-year and second year students.

 

Andrea Lizama Loyola, research assistant PALM project.

PhD in Sociology. The University of Manchester

 

Works Cited

Crozier, Rea, Clayton, & Grinstead, C. a. (2008). Different strokes for different folks: diverse students in diverse institutions–experiences of higher education. Research papers in education, 167-177.

Reay, D., Crozier, G., & Clayton, J. (2010). ‘Fitting in’or ‘standing out’: Working‐class students in UK higher education. British educational research journal, 36(1), 107-124.

Tomlinson, M. (2008). ‘The degree is not enough’: students’ perceptions of the role of higher education credentials for graduate work and employability. British journal of sociology of education, 49-61.

Reflecting on the project experience as organiser

As the physical project work (planning and running sessions, supporting mentors etc) is now concluded I thought an interesting blog post maybe generated by my completing a reflection on this project using Gibbs (1988) reflective model (May is a quiet month on the project front!):

Description

Organising the project involved several activities; planning sessions across the year,  liaising with staff involved, preparing mentor packs, marketing the project to students to get them involved, sending out application forms, gathering these back and considering them, meeting with mentors to gather their thoughts on session content, assigning sessions to mentors, organising dates and booking rooms, creating posters and sharing theses, sending reminders about sessions, Supporting mentors in creating sessions plans, liaising between parties to ensure the provision of materials, meeting with mentors to finalise plans and support them with any additional requirements, shopping for and preparing materials, attending the sessions themselves, sending out and collecting feedback forms, considering this feedback in developing towards the next session and answering any queries.

Feelings

I was excited about doing this project, I thought it was a good idea and opportunity for the students and I looked forward to working with them in a different way. I enjoyed creating the materials and felt excited, intrigued and surprised by the content of the sessions devised by the mentors. I felt frustrated and worried when I was struggling to engage students and dissapointed when  we sat with a mentor ready to go and no mentees had yet turned up. I felt stressed trying to manage this project on top of my existing workload and proud of what the mentors who took part achieved. 

Evaluation

Good things…
I learnt news things, I enjoyed developing the idea from paper to practice, I really enjoyed working with the mentors and believe that they gained a lot from the experience of Peer Assisted Learning, I also think the mentees who attended sessions learnt new skills. It is beneficial to be able to offer students additional opportunities and I really like the drawing together of students from different year groups to support one another. I very much enjoyed working with other teams in the university and with members of my team in a different way. A lot of lessons have been learnt. 
Bad things…
The stress involved in putting something together which is then not as successful as you would have hoped and how this feeds into your ongoing management of the project, it was hard to remain motivated when feeling like I had put so much in and it just wasn’t working. It is perhaps just too much to ask of students who would prefer to just focus on their studies, do they really need extra sessions to attend and work to do? It was a lot of work to organise, particularly as it is the first time it is taking place. There was not enough time, students said they were interested but could not make that session so maybe sessions being repeated would be beneficial. 

Analysis

It is clear that student engagement had an impact on the project work; co working with students was one of the biggest benefits, getting students to take part was the biggest challenge. Student engagement has been a concern for academics for several years when considering teaching practice (Witkowski and Cornell, 2017:56), it is then no wonder extra curricular activity struggles to get bums on seats. Students are concerned with passing their degree to gain a qualification, thoughts on their employability at the end of the degree tend to focus around this, thoughts do not extend to what separates them from the next graduate with the same qualification. Why students do not engage is a very individual thing (Haggis, 2004) and there is no one size fits all answer for how students can be engaged in extra curricular activity and perhaps this is okay; there were two successful mentors and four engaged mentees on the project who gained from their experience and maybe that is enough. Maybe changes need to be made little by little. I wonder if legacy has a positive impact on engagement, although the peer mentoring project is historic this is the first time it has been worked in this way and maybe it will take a few years for its reputation to build up. I think the only way forward is to try again. 

Conclusion

I have learnt a lot from this project and there is still much more to learn, I am looking forward to analysing the data collected through the accompanying research project to hear what the experience was like for others who took part. Moving forward I think better organisation from the outset would be beneficial in developing an accompanying marketing plan to share details of the project with students and get them signed up. I’d like to consider how we can better communicate the value of taking part to students in a way which motivates them to take part. I am also going to spend time completing further research into issues of student engagement to ascertain what the barriers are and further consider how we might tackle them in light of this particular project. 

Action plan

  • Analyse research data collected  and feed findings into the development of the project for a second years delivery
  • Complete further research into student engagement within extra curricular activities
  • Connect with others offering similar peer to peer mentoring opportunities for students to see how these work and lessons learned
  • Start planning for next year

References:

Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford

Witkowski, P. and T. Cornell (2017) ‘An investigation into students engagement in Higher Education Classrooms’, InSight : A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 10: 56-67

Changing the research strategy

In the original funding application for the project it was outlined that two separate focus group’s would take place with the mentees and mentors to gather opinions on the project and ascertain it’s efficacy. Questionnaires were also outlined as a research tool.

As we enter the busiest data gathering period of the project I am reconsidering this approach which was devised with predicted numbers of 8-10 mentors and 30 mentees. With the very small numbers of students involved and the low levels of engagement in mind a new approach has been devised:

Semi-structured interviews will be offered with the three mentors, the four mentees who attended sessions, the supporting member of staff from Learning Development, the first year students Personal Tutor and project lead. These will be conducted using both face to face and digital communications methods e.g. Skype. 

Questionnaires will be sent to the first year class group who were invited to take part but did not attend to ascertain what the barriers were to attendance for them. 

I feel the interviews will be able to gather more in depth data and offer the mentors and other stakeholders opportunities to share their experience of the project  in more detail. In addition the adaptability offered through semi-structured interviews will open doors to examining outcomes of the project experience for participants which had not been considered at the proposal phase of the research. 

It is a shame to lose the opportunity of  examining the similarities and differences of participants responses in the moment (Stewart, 2018, p.688) and gain the benefits of participants interactions helping them in further critiquing and considering the answers given (Stewart, 2018, p.689). Focus groups would still be the preferred method for data collection, particularly in capturing the opinions of the potential mentees who did not take part but the only way I see getting those students together would be in an in class situation which would take valuable time away from planned teaching and potentially confuse participants in understanding their rights of refusal to take part. 

I do wonder if this change has come about because I feel a little scarred by the lack of student engagement in a project in which participation offered them so many benefits (or at least I believe so, hopefully the research will confirm this hunch). Have my feelings shaped my chosen research strategy? Is the voice that said ‘there is no point scheduling focus groups because they won’t turn up anyway?’ a distanced and objective researchers voice or one of a jaded lecturer who has just succumb to accepting that students just do what the need to pass? What does this mean for the research? Is it still valid and reliable? 

My answer to this question is yes; we have not given up on viable research tools, we have simply exchanged them for others in response to observations of the participant group and their needs. And although I am biased data is being collected by a research assistant with no affiliation to the project, programme or university. What has changed is the scale, this was never a big piece of research by any stretch of the imagination but it has shifted from 40 plus stakeholders engaging in face to face data collection to 10 at most limiting the wider application of any findings. However I think there are benefits to this; enabling the researchers to complete a more in depth analysis of the data and apply findings directly into the development of the project. My hope is that in the data gathered some clues will be offered for why engagement is such a struggle to feed into the design of next years project.

Who knows maybe we will be able to research it again…

References:

Stewart, D. W. (2018) Focus Groups. In: Frey, B. B. (ed.) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation. California: Sage Publications, Inc, pp.687-691.

 

Session 4-our final session!

On the 19th March we held our final PALM session of the academic year. As the taught part of the academic term draws to a close the first year students are now well and truly in assessment mode, potentially working on several assignments at the same time.  

For this session we responded to feedback gathered from the mentees who had attended the previous sessions to re-run some of the previous activities they had found most useful;

  • The mentor who led session 3 returned to look again at using Blooms Taxonomy to break down learning outcomes,
  • the Learning Development team offered support on sentence structuring
  • and the tutor in attendance offered a ‘breaking down your assignment brief’ activity.

It was felt that further support with managing the stress of completing assignments would have been beneficial but unfortunately the mentor who had devised and run the buddying session so brilliantly was not available. 

Two first year students attended, they asked lots of questions and we looked in depth at a brief they are working on presently. Based on the mentees questions activity also developed beyond the planned activity. The mentor and staff in attendance also discussed issues of;

  • barriers to accessing learning,
  • approaches to research,
  • managing expectations
  • and attitudes to receiving feedback.

It was almost a supervision session in approach with the mentees reflecting on their first year at university with the mentor and tutors offering advice and support. Some of the information which has been shared with mentees across the sessions and in other orientating activities had perhaps not quite been fully absorbed on first sharing. Now with the experience of the year behind them they are able to start seeing the wider picture and know where and when to best access the required support.   

It generally felt live a very positive and lively session, it now feels like the whole project is all over too quickly.

 

The poster from the forth and final PALM session which was shared with first year students via the university VLE. 

Session 3

On Tuesday 12th February we held the third mentor led session. The first years are now well embedded into university life and assignment requirements are on their minds. 

The session was titled ‘The beginners guide to assessment’ and focused on  navigating the assessment information available on:

  • the VLE system,
  • issues of plagiarism
  • and deciphering learning outcomes.

A second year mentor led the session, he has not been to any previous sessions but used powerpoint and the Kahoot quiz application to develop an insightful, informative and interactive session which offered some really useful tips and tricks. Despite his not having met the mentees before the work he had put together was tailored really well to meet their needs. He had drawn heavily from his own experience of completing assignments alongside engaging with recognised tools and resources such as Bloom’s Taxonomy and ‘Is this academic misconduct?’ activities from other universities. Nerves did show in his delivery of the materials but with only peer to peer presentation opportunities as his previous experience he did an excellent job and what a fantastic learning opportunity for him it was. 

Unfortunately we only had 1 mentee attend, which I think probably made the mentor feel even more nervous, as someone who has lots of experience presenting to groups I dread those sessions where for whatever reason you are only working with a very small group, bigger numbers definitely feel safer. The mentor carried on regardless and the others in the room, myself, the research assistant, first year personal tutor and a member of our learning development team took part in activities and offered comments during the workshop.

Each time we have had a session I have ramped up the level of marketing to try and engage as many first year students as we can. This time I specifically tried to highlight how beneficial the session will be to them in preparing for their latest assignment and encouraged them to bring along some learning outcomes they are currently working on so we could have a look at them. Generally I felt it was a real shame that the other first year students did not get to access the session as it would have been very helpful to them in their continued studies. As with previous sessions I am left thinking on how I can offer the mentor an additional opportunity to share their materials with a group as it seems such a shame for such a good session to have only been accessed by one student. 

The poster for session 3 shared with first year students via the university VLE.

Mentoring beyond the project

Part of the rationale behind taking a peer assisted learning approach to our mentoring programme this year was to offer additional support to mentors and mentees through having set sessions when academic staff could be present. In the past mentors and mentees have arranged their own time to meet and this has led to some very positive partnerships, some partnerships which never really got off the ground and some incidents when the ethos of a mentoring relationship has been lost along the way. 

For this project it was hoped that the mentors would feel they could offer additional support beyond the arranged sessions within a safe context but this was not an organised part of the project. 

In the past week an opportunity arose when an issue of timetabling meant a group of first year students found themselves in a classroom without a tutor or organised activity to complete. One of our second year mentors was there and within her role as a student mentor decided to lead the group through a discussion on the modules assessment items, which had been introduced the previous week, whilst awaiting confirmation from academic staff about session content. 

Demonstrating that she feels comfortable in her role as a student mentor and has developed skills and confidence in being able to initiate and lead group discussion outside of the organised activity for the project. This event also demonstrates the value of having student mentors who can lead their peers in academic activity for the programme.

It would have been good to have captured some of the thoughts from the first students who were there and maybe that is something we can factor into the data gathering for the project, it would be great to know if being able to chat assessments over with peers rather than tutors offers students additional benefits. There maybe questions they do not feel confident asking in front of a tutor or the student mentor may have been able to offer an explanation of the activity which is more applicable to the students than tutors can offer. Conversely it may have negative implications with incorrect information being given but if student mentors were integrated into offering assignment support as part of their role this could be mitigated through the developing of their skills in deciphering briefs which leads us nicely onto…

Our next session, session 3, which will focus on assessments; understanding assignment briefs, using our online system to gather the relevant data to complete work and issues of plagiarism.  

Session 2

On the 8th January 2019 we ran our second PALM session with one of our second year mentors leading proceedings. The first years had just completed their first term of study with us so it was a time for reflections and new starts.

When designing the session our second year mentor discussed with first year students what they would like to cover and come up with a session on Study Buddies. She wanted to share some of the ways in which she had found it useful to work with peers on academic work alongside gaining emotional support when times are stressful or challenging. 

She designed the session to include:

  • Discussions on how to work with peers offering tips and techniques she had picked up along the way;
  • Engagement with a ‘Tree of Me’ task which had been set by tutors for a reflective session on one of the modules;
  • and a burn box for student to write down anything from their first term of study which they would like to let go of. 

We had just two students attend but considering the time of year and it being only the second day back after the Christmas break we thought this was a fair turnout. Those who attended were highly engaged, the low numbers gave the mentor an opportunity to work 1 to 1 with each attendee.

Interestingly all three students in attendance would be considered to be mature students who are returning to education following a break. This led to a powerful discussion around maturity as an undergraduate student being both a challenge and of benefit to individuals in their studies, students identified that confidence can be one of the biggest barriers they face when engaging in class and preparing for assignments. The student mentor led discussions which served to identify key strengths for both participants and offer practical methods to support study.

Despite the low numbers attending this session really offered our mentor the opportunity to showcase her skills; she led the session, facilitated meaningful discussion and responded to issues raised through offering supportive and practical ideas. The first year students had half an hour between the organised end of the PALM session and their next lesson, they chose to stay for this time and work with the mentor which speaks volumes.  

Looking forward to our next session.

The poster for session 2 shared with first year students via the universities VLE. 

Our first session!

Today was our first PALM session. The session was co-designed by the Year 1 Personal Tutor and a member of staff from Learning Development. The tasks explored:

  1. Referencing 
  2. Sentence structure
  3. Writing in paragraphs

These areas for development were chosen based on staff reflections of providing formative and summative feedback to Year 1 students so far this term. 

The session was delivered on a date when our first years were on campus for a taught session in the afternoon. However, despite advertising the event to students on NILE and in taught sessions only 3 students attended…. representing around 10% of our student cohort. While this number is low we saw this as a minor victory as it can be very difficult to get students to attend what they see as ‘optional’ sessions. 

The students that did attend were really positive about the activities on offer and were keen to take the materials provided home with them. All students stated in the end of session evaluation that they either strongly agreed or agreed that they had found the session informative, felt more confident with their study skills and that they received good support during the session. For future sessions it was noted that they would like more support with sentence structure and how to conduct research. Since the students had a positive experience we asked them to share this with others to try and promote attendance for future sessions. 

One of the student mentors attended the session and she worked really well with the group sharing her experiences as a student and offering constructive feedback on the tasks they were completing. 

The PALM project poster shared with first year students via the university VLE.