Reflections on the Social and Political Sciences peer assisted learning pilot

Simon Parker and Luke Carroll, Politics; and Tamlyn Ryan and Lucy Hodgetts, Learning Enhancement Team, Academic Support Office

Abstract

As part of its Learning Enhancement strategy for the York Pedagogy, the School of SPS identified a need to support students in navigating the differences between individual academic departments and cultures and to develop greater confidence in their written, analytical and presentation skills. With the financial support of the Rapid Response Fund, the School of SPS has worked with the Learning Enhancement Team (LET) in the Academic Support Office to recruit and train graduate, second and third year mentors to organise PAL sessions with first year and second year SPS undergraduates. Session Leaders have worked with the LET, the School Director and module convenors in preparing learning support materials, setting up a dedicated VLE site, designing and disseminating an online study skills survey, organising the 2nd year peer mentors, convening the PAL sessions, providing feedback to the LET and School Director, and working with PAL attendees to solicit ideas for future sessions and other learning needs. A total of five dedicated sessions have been organised over the course of the spring term, Easter vacation and the summer term with the aim of complementing the relevant learning stage and assessment cycle in terms of session topics. In this session we will share the experiences of the PAL mentors and the students who took part in the pilot together with the results of the before and after study skills survey and the reflections of the Learning Enhancement Team.

Chair’s Summary

Simon, Tamlyn, Lucy and Luke gave us a great insight into how peer assisted learning can be used in a variety of settings. Simon gave us an overview of the PAL concept: students can attend regular peer facilitated sessions that provide opportunities to discuss module or course content. They emphasised that PAL sessions are not about teaching but about students working together in a well facilitated, supportive environment. PAL schemes can enhance engagement, improve student confidence and provide a real sense of belonging.

The School of Social and Political Sciences uses PAL across its programmes to enhance the coherence of interdisciplinary provision. Luke, a PAL leader within the School, gave us a real insight into what actually happens in a PAL session and how it benefits both student participants and PAL leaders.  Luke enjoyed facilitating the sessions, his confidence has grown and he’s developed some broader skills that are really workplace relevant. He attended an intensive one day training session and worked closely with staff delivering the programme to develop the session content. The PAL participants attended sessions regularly and had the opportunity to get a better understanding of the range of disciplinary approaches and ways of working they are exposed to across the programme.

Tamlyn explained that many PAL schemes are focused around a single module rather than a whole programme. She outlined how ASO can provide training for PAL leaders and work with departments to develop materials to be used in PAL sessions. The session was attended by colleagues from across a variety of disciplines and the discussion that followed indicated that we could all see a place for PAL within our own departments.

Further Workshop Materials