You can take a horse to water…

…but you cannot make it drink.

We are in the middle of the recruitment process for the level 5 mentors. In order to generate interest I have;

  • Produced a cover letter, poster and application form,
  • Posted digital copies of  these for students on their course integrated learning site….3 times, 
  • Spoken to students about the project in taught sessions and asked colleagues to do the same,
  • Handed out printed copies of the cover letter and application form,
  • Extended the deadline for the project,
  • and included a whole other cohort of students by extending the right to apply to our BA Education studies students also.

In all of this I have outlined the benefits of taking part, including the free training, offering participants 100 pounds towards academic activity for taking part (in the project not the research) and a free notepad! Who doesn’t like free stationary?!

And….after all of that we have had 3 applications. Over 60 students were invited to apply and 3 did so. I wasn’t expecting a hugely high influx of applications, students in their second year are aware that the grades they are achieving count towards their classification at the end of the degree and it can be a busy year for assessment. However they also have one eye on graduation and future career options suggesting opportunities to develop skills and gain valuable work experience would be highly sought after.

You may be able to hear in my writing that I am a little disappointed, however I can also see positives to working with a smaller group, particularly as this is our pilot project. In addition the applications received were of a high standard and each brings a different set of skills and range of experience to the project. I hope they will offer a diverse programme of study skills sessions. We will have four hour long sessions with the mentees so the low numbers mean each mentor will be able to work individually and we can also really focus on developing their skills in planning and delivering.

So it’s not all bad but it does prompt me into thinking more on student engagement; what are the causes? is there is anything we can do about it? am I so out of touch I have no idea how to engage our students in an extra project? For the future, for now I am going to focus on my mentors and how I can enrich their university experience.

Here is a link to the padlet which is the mentor space containing all the relevant documents shared: https://uon1.padlet.org/lisa_shepherd/PALMmentors

Lets start at the beginning…

…it’s a very good place to start. 

The peer-assisted learning and mentoring (PALM) programme came to life in just 3 days. Mentoring is an important part of the additional offer we make to students on the course BA Childhood and Youth. As part of the education, children and young people subject area we even offer an award to a graduate each year for their work supporting fellow students through mentoring. Each year we run a peer to peer mentoring scheme which sees a self selected group of our second year students train as mentors to support individual year one students. Despite a handful of successful mentoring relationships emerging from this process over the years the peer to peer mentoring scheme was in need of a redesign and so PALM was born. 

We act as personal tutors to our students meeting with them one to one and supporting them with both academic and personal issues. As a team we noted the changing needs of our year one students, similar to trends noted across the higher education sector students emotional needs are becoming an increasingly important consideration (Bewick, Gill, Mulhern, Barkham, & Hill, 2008). With this in mind the team felt that asking level 5 students to offer support in a largely independent manner carried issues of safeguarding the wellbeing of both the level 4 and level 5 students. We therefore came up with a new plan. 

Peer learning involves those of equal status in peer groups supporting the acquisition of skills and knowledge in a relationship which offers development to both parties (Topping 2005). Peer-assisted learning (PAL) is a cost effective means of raising standards in education which also offers affective and social benefits to participants (Topping and Ehly 1998). PALS in higher education (HE) generally involve students from the year above offering support to their peers in the year below. Our model will see between 8-10 level 5 students recruited into the role of mentor. They will be supported through training in mentoring and introduced to the idea of peer-assisted learning by skilled colleagues from our Learning Development team here at the University of Northampton. They will then work in pairs to design and deliver 4 sessions on academic skills which they feel would be valuable to the year one students. The sessions will be team taught with an academic member of staff who is also personal tutor to the level 4 students as a whole group.

It is hoped this approach will offer level 5 students valuable skills development and experience in mentoring which will enhance their CV’s alongside offering a robust level of support to the level 4 students without placing a high level of responsibility on any student involved. A qualitative approach will be taken to evaluation with focus groups and questionnaires being utilised to gather stakeholder opinions of the implementation of the model and its impact on student experience. The student and academic participants opinions will be sought and the gathered data interrogated to ascertain the efficacy of the approach from a student perspective. The evaluation will seek 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.

Bewick, B. M., Gill, J., Mulhern, B., Barkham, M., & Hill, A. J. (2008). “Using electronic surveying to assess psychological distress within the UK university student population: A multi-site pilot investigation” E-Journal of Applied Psychology, 4, 1–5.

Topping, K.J and Ehly, S (1998) Peer-Assisted Learning, Routledge: New York

Topping, K.J. (2005) “Trends in Peer Learning”, Educational Psychology, 25:6, 631-645.

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