Establishing a successful peer-assisted learning scheme

Jessica Wilson, Rachel Wong, Jonathan Cole

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The third author has been Adviser of Studies since 2009, responsible for academic guidance and pastoral advice for 200 students per year on average. He was aware that some first-year students struggled in various fundamental modules such as mechanics of materials and thermodynamics and the large class size restricted the extent of one-to-one support. While many maths tutors are available externally for students who want extra support, it is not straightforward to find tutors in more specialised engineering subjects. Therefore, it was desired to establish additional support for a wide range of engineering topics and a staff-student collaboration has been the approach taken to engaging students.

Peer-assisted learning has existed in various forms in higher education for many years and it is accepted that the approach taken should recognise the needs of the particular setting. This paper describes the establishment of a peer-assisted learning scheme to fulfil the requirements of engineering students in our school. A research question that emerged during this process concerns how the success or otherwise of the scheme can be measured.

The University’s Learning Development Service (LDS) had supported peer mentoring in various schools but this tended towards helping new students settle in rather than academic support. With guidance from LDS, a pilot peer-assisted learning scheme began in 2016/17 with 18 mentors supporting 188 first-year engineering students. The format generally involved drop-in sessions led by mentors. Focus groups conducted with first-year students identified some vagueness concerning what the scheme was and, due to the scheme coordinator being a subject lecturer also, some confusion whether mentor sessions were for that particular subject only.

Having this experience, a more formal approach was adopted to establishing the 2017/18 scheme. Applications to become a mentor were invited in February 2017 and 16 students were selected. These included second-, third- and final-year students, many who had undertaken industrial placement or were from the school’s prestigious leadership programme, and some mature students – thus, the mentor group contained a rich variety of talent. Training commenced in April 2017; it was led by LDS and included mentoring and coaching skills alongside a subject-specific aspect provided by the scheme coordinator.

During welcome week, mentors introduced themselves to the new students at an informal session with tea and biscuits. Weekly drop-in sessions have been held in an open-plan groupwork room, the number of sessions per week recently increasing following student request. Advertising has been mainly through email, with posters, announcements in lectures, flyers and facebook also used. The coordinator spent around 42 hours on the scheme in 2017, mostly for preparatory and administrative work and a small amount for planning meetings and attending drop-in sessions. Student numbers using the scheme have grown this year with positive feedback on the quality of mentoring and evidence of mentee development. Mentors have found participating highly rewarding and benefits reported include an increased sense of community within the school, building relationships across year groups, opportunity of an autonomous position of responsibility and reinforcement of own study skills and subject knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018
EventRAISE 2018: Working Better Together: Collaborations in Student Engagement - Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield , United Kingdom
Duration: 05 Sep 201807 Sep 2018


ConferenceRAISE 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • peer-assisted learning
  • engineering
  • benefits


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