P. Bidgood, N. Saebi, J. Gay

Kingston University (UNITED KINGDOM)
The transition from school to university education and environment can be difficult even for the best students. This paper describes an intervention that assists students in making this transition by helping in the development of study skills during the early stages of their course. The scheme, originally known as Supplemental Instruction (SI) and devised at the University of Missouri- Kansas City, was adopted in 1990-91 in the UK at Kingston University; later funding through the Higher Education Research Council for England allowed dissemination to a wider audience. Over the years Kingston has adapted SI (now known as Peer Assisted Learning or PAL) to better suit its students’ needs.

Student mentoring and peer tutoring can take various forms, but all are in place to help students to be more successful in Higher Education, to aid retention and to help those from diverse backgrounds cope with the demands, both socially and academically, of their undergraduate courses. Methods by which students help each other to learn can confer considerable benefit to all concerned, both tutors and tutees, as well as academic staff [1, 2]. Where such methods exist they are generally reported as being highly valued by the recipients, usually first year students, and most successful when the mentors or tutors had received sound training from the institution and had liaison with academic staff to whom they could turn for assistance.

Here a peer-assisted scheme, whereby trained second year students assist first years to develop the study skills required to help them be successful in their course is described. This scheme has been shown to be successful in a wide variety of subjects, including those of a highly technical or vocational nature, such as medicine, physiotherapy, engineering and law. [3] Many technical subjects have an underpinning of mathematics which is often the part of the course that students find most difficult and perhaps least interesting. The PAL scheme was identified as good practice in mathematics and statistics classes, following the Quality Assurance Agency reviews of provision in Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research in England and Northern Ireland in 1998-2000 and similar reviews in the rest of the UK.[4] Although PAL has been attached to various modules, here its use in two first year mathematics modules, which are deemed the most difficult for students on the statistics pathway, is described in some detail.

[1] Rust and Wallace (Eds) ( 1994), Helping Students to learn from each other, SEDA Paper 86
[2] Bidgood P (2004) Student Mentoring and Peer Tutoring MSOR Connections 4
[3] Hammond J, Bithell C, Jones L & Bidgood P (to appear) Beware of voluntary PAL: an action research study in physiotherapy Active Learning in Higher Education
[4] Mathematics Statistics and Operational Research Overview Report Q07, 2000, Quality Assurance Agency