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Cathedrals Mission Group - Peer Learning Project 2017: Peer mentoring in Biomedical Sciences York St John University

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

Year two and three undergraduate students within all programmes in the School of Health Sciences act as mentors for year one students (mentees). The scheme in Biomedical Science is led by Sue Jones Director of Biomedical Sciences. The mentoring scheme includes:

  1. Peer-to-peer meetings to offer pastoral support
  2. Specific laboratory skills mentoring using year two students as mentors and year one students as mentees

The Biomedical Science scheme was specifically developed to link to York St John graduate attributes and employability. It is anticipated that the scheme will provide a verified activity for students to include in their HEAR.

Scheme overview

Students in the Biomedical Science programme suggested at the end of their first year that they would like to participate in a mentoring scheme for the next cohort of students. This was because they were the first cohort on the brand new programme and wanted to offer help and advice to the next year group of students. In the current laboratory mentoring scheme there are 16 mentors and 24 mentees. For the peer mentoring there are four mentors and 24 mentees.

Both pastoral and laboratory based mentoring schemes were developed as part of the key skills modules in both years. The pastoral scheme was based on a University wide mentoring programme currently in existence. The laboratory based scheme was developed de novo using supported open learning (labs) (SOLs) with peer tutoring and competency based assessment of skills.

Both mentors and mentees are able to earn open badges for participating in the mentoring schemes that are included in a portfolio submitted at the end of their key skills module. For the pastoral mentoring badge each year two student must meet once a fortnight with their group of mentees (six in each group). They need to evidence this (copy of email/room booking) and then the mentors submit a reflective statement at the end of the process. For the laboratory-based scheme the year two students are trained on the equipment to be used and advised on how to support the year one students while observing their laboratory skills during a SOLs session. The academic staff or Biomedical Science technician observe these sessions and inform the Subject Director if the badges should be awarded based on performance. The badges are then issued stored and presented in students’ electronic portfolios (Mahara) at the end of semester two.

Key resource implications 

No funding is currently provided to assist the Biomedical Science students or staff with the scheme. There is a cost implication for the consumables used in the laboratory sessions but these are generally the same as those used in practical classes therefore the additional cost is small.

The mentors do not receive any payment for their involvement in the scheme but have the opportunity to earn the two open badges available (from a selection of ten open badges) and all students must submit five open badges in their portfolio to receive the full marks for a complete portfolio.  Open Badges are a new online standard for recognising and verifying learning these are issued by institutions to verify students digital literacy skills or employability attributes and teams like ours could use them to verify academic staff eLearning skills.

As the students asked to be involved in a mentoring scheme they were willing to undertake this role without the need for any financial payment. In addition to earning badges the year two students already understand the benefit of being able to offer advice and support and develop their own scientific knowledge laboratory skills and communication skills by taking on these roles.

Training and development of mentors/mentees

Training is provided for the mentors. Academic and technical staff lead the training for the laboratory based mentoring sessions. These are bespoke sessions and take place immediately before the SOLs session so that the year two mentoring students are familiar with the equipment and can ask any questions about the tasks on the day. Year two students are already familiar with the techniques demonstrated from their own laboratory experience. Staff are available during SOLs session to offer further guidance or support if necessary.

Student Services lead the induction session and training for the peer-mentors. The training involves an initial briefing and feedback sessions during the scheme.

How the scheme engages and supports students 

Mentoring fellow students on the Biomedical Science programme and demonstrating techniques in the laboratories develops knowledge skills and understanding in both the mentor and mentee. Laboratory based experiential learning and providing pastoral support enables both sets of students to reflect on their current skills knowledge and professional competencies. It provides opportunities to create development plans and appreciate the need for continual professional development. Thus the knowledge and understanding developed through the taught curriculum content is applied through our use of supported open learning to encourage the development of graduates who are already familiar with continual professional development and lifelong learning. These work-related learning tasks and employability skills are captured in the portfolio completed for the year one and two key skills modules. In addition the open badges undertaken as part of these supported open learning activities and mentoring schemes reward and recognise student achievement throughout their learning journey.

As this is the first time the students have engaged in the mentoring scheme (as 2016-17 is the first time we have had year one and two cohorts) we plan to review the outcomes in more detail by discussing the mentoring schemes with both cohorts during and at the end of the academic year.

Evidence of value effectiveness and impact

Students have the opportunity to record and evidence their role as a peer mentor through:

  • open badges;
  • Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR);
  • graduate attributes.

No formal data has been collected yet as the scheme has only run for semester one of 2016-17. There are plans to meet formally with the year two students at the beginning of semester two to explore feedback from semester one and make any changes for semester two for the laboratory based mentoring scheme. The Subject Director will also meet with the four peer mentors to ask about their experience and discuss what they liked and would like to change about the scheme for semester two or next year.

Critical reflections 

The Biomedical Science programme aims to give opportunities throughout the programme to all students to develop their personal confidence through taught sessions and laboratory skills. There is also emphasis on independence and lifelong learning at all levels of study and on working effectively in teams. Both of the mentoring schemes that we have developed/adapted for our programme directly support this philosophy and allow both the mentees and mentors to develop new transferable and subject specific skills. All of the students also gain enhanced laboratory competency from their practical class sessions plus the supported open learning opportunities. The key challenges are time constraints – there are only two academic staff and one technician supporting two years of the degree programme. The laboratory based mentoring scheme would have been even better if we had formalised a training session at the start of semester one about how to demonstrate techniques/interact proactively as a laboratory mentor to give the year two students more confidence in approaching the year one students to offer help and advice rather than waiting to be asked.

A key piece of advice would be to have a clear idea of the sessions that you want to incorporate in the mentoring scheme. Identify clear goals and outcomes for the mentors and mentees so that they can see the benefit of engaging with the scheme. The peer mentors have indicated that a more open format with no defined topics for the sessions has led to a lack of engagement by some mentees. It would be useful to use your own knowledge to identify areas in your curriculum where students commonly struggle (e.g. adjusting to HE time management meeting deadlines and subject specific skills) and make those the focus of mentoring sessions. You could also use the mentors as a source of relevant and useful topics to cover and then ask the mentees if they found things useful/relevant and what they would incorporate next time so the mentoring scheme is constantly evolving and developing.

Additional comment

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are embedded throughout our programme and the programme has been designed with a spiral curriculum where the students revisit key topics and laboratory techniques several times. There is also clear vertical alignment of professional and transferable skills that runs through the year one and year two key skills modules and Research Project module. The ability to offer pastoral support advice and encouragement between students plus increasing confidence in explaining or performing laboratory techniques by participating in these mentoring schemes seems to give both cohorts a deeper level of knowledge and understanding.

Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across The Cathedrals Group - Compendium of Case Studies_4.pdf
Learning from Best Practice in Peer Learning and Mentoring across The Cathedrals Group - Compendium of Case Studies_4.pdf View Document

The materials published on this page were originally created by the Higher Education Academy.