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!):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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