A Compendium of Case Studies has been produced as part of the joint Higher Education Academy / The Cathedrals Group / Leeds Trinity University project ‘Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across the Cathedrals Group’. It is intended to showcase and illuminate the rich range of practice within the group.
You can download the compendium on this page.
Each institutional participant within the project was invited to select one of the schemes / programmes in current operation that best illustrates their current practice. Although several institutions operate more than one scheme only one case study per institution was permitted. This is one such case study.
Nature and focus of scheme
The peer learning mentoring scheme is a university-wide programme that aims to offer support to all strands of the student body by representing all programmes. The peer learning mentors (PLMs) are recruited by subject area and offer weekly voluntary drop in sessions and email support. The PLMs can be any level excluding level four and a number of postgraduate students are currently taking part in the scheme.
Peer learning mentors offer support on academic skills but they are able to bring their subject specific knowledge to bear in order to offer expert advice. For example if a user is asked to write a report for a business-related module the advice given by a PLM with a business background will be tailored in the right direction. There are currently 35 PLMs. PLMs also undertake a number of additional roles. In order to aid the embedding of the scheme they attend Intro week sessions with the Learning Hub team. They are invited along to Learning Hub workshops to offer support to workshop delegates and further advertise their services. A number of PLMs are also supporting lecturers in module seminars and workshops. Further a number of PLMs have recently been involved on a voluntary basis in a peer-to-peer marking and feedback project. Most recently the University has been working on developing a ‘Digital Literacy Champion’ programme and this is currently being folded into the peer learning mentoring scheme. The ‘Digital Literacy Champion’ programme is a service to support students to develop and maintain the digital literacy skills necessary to work effectively as a student.
Key resource implications
The PLMs are paid an hourly rate (£10) for their regular work. They also receive payment for additional work dependent on its nature. The day-to-day organisation of the scheme falls to the Learning Hub graduate trainee. The Student Achievement Coordinator has overall authority for the scheme.
Training and development of mentors/mentees
The recruitment of PLMs is rigorous. The role is advertised throughout the university with requests going to departmental members of staff for recommendations. Some targeted promotion then takes place. The candidates are then interview to determine their suitability.
Upon appointment the PLMs undergo two-hour induction training and further training takes place during the year with roughly two training sessions taking place per term. All these sessions take the form of group workshops. The PLMs ‘check in’ before and after their sessions which allows them to raise issues concerns and queries as and when necessary. The PLMs can also use the services of the Learning Hub to improve their own academic skills and through this develop their mentoring capabilities.
How the scheme engages and supports students
The peer learning mentoring scheme has recently entered its third academic year under the umbrella of the Learning Hub. Last year the scheme received 389 drop in visits; a 264% increase in usage.
Anecdotally it appears the service gets used in several ways and the user dictates this. Some students attend the PLM session for their area on a regular basis which allows the PLM themselves to act as a more traditional mentor by supporting development over a period of time. Other users drop in as and when required treating it more like a ‘clinic’. On occasion some PLM sessions work more as group study sessions led by the PLM. Such flexibility has been a strength as it allows for different students to access the same support in different ways. PLMs also offer online support via an email drop box. This element of the service is still in its infancy and ways of further developing this facility are still being explored.
Prior to appointment a number of PLMs mentioned during interview that they already helped their friends on their course and the scheme has allowed for this to be formalised and extended to a wider field of students. Academic staff engagement is seen as key to increasing student engagement and the number of staff showing interest in marketing the peer learning mentors programme has risen year on year. It is now a fixture in many module handbooks and lecturers draw attention to the PLM programme during lectures at appropriate times in the year. This is thought to have had an impact in the success of the scheme.
Evidence of value effectiveness and impact
The key measure of the success of the service has been the extent of its use. The increase in usage from the academic years 2014-15 to 2015-16 is a pleasing sign and this is a trend it is hoped will continue. It is also worth noting that last year semester two usage significantly outstripped semester one usage again suggesting that while still in its infancy the scheme is increasing in popularity. This is illustrated in the graph below:
Anecdotally the peer learning mentoring programme has received excellent feedback with two examples included below:
It’s really nice and personal service. When I know I have work that needs to be done or when I know I need to start getting on with thinking about how to begin my work I always drop in to see my PLMs. (Level 5 Humanities student)
Students attending these sessions have found them invaluable (Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies)
We are exploring further ways of monitoring the impact of the scheme. We are planning to collect more systematic feedback from service users staff and the PLMs.
Key challenges and strategies used to overcome: student engagement is variable across programmes and across PLMs. Attendance is good in areas such as Psychology Theology and Religious Studies. Student engagement in other areas has been more difficult to establish. Attendance overall at PLM sessions has increased dramatically over the last two years as a result of a sustained advertising campaign. This has included inviting PLMs in lectures to take a lead on academic skills input alongside staff from the Learning Hub.
The scheme might have been ‘even better if’: the PLMs had been allocated their own permanent space for supporting students.
Lessons learnt and advice to those starting such a scheme: managing in excess of 30 PLMs is challenging and requires careful monitoring. Some PLMs are able to work very independently and others require more support in order to develop their professional skills further. Advice to others starting a scheme is stated below:
- Be patient – don’t panic if engagement takes time to develop.
- PLMs are the best advert for themselves. Give them an opportunity to promote themselves. They often promote themselves informally.
- Promote the scheme through many different channels.