PEER-SUPPORTED LEARNING GROUPS FOR FIRST-YEAR ENGINEERING AND ICT COURSES: INSIGHTS AND EVALUATION
This paper describes an innovative, non-traditional tutoring scheme which is based on collaborative peer-supported learning, and provides an insightful reflection on seven years of its implementation to specific subjects in electronic engineering and ICT based courses at the University of Limerick. The scheme, known as Peer-Supported Learning Groups (PSLG), is an academic enrichment scheme, which has been developed by adapting the American SI model such that it meets the needs of the students in Ireland and fits into the Irish third-level education system. PSLG is a proactive academic enrichment scheme, that targets difficult modules/subjects, fosters cross-year support between students on the same course, encourages students to support each other and to learn co-operatively and as partners under the guidance of students from the year(s) above. The scheme operates regular weekly scheduled course-oriented sessions that:
• Have academic/subject focus yet supports social learning through small group discussions and co-operative learning;
• Are supplemental to teaching, such that subject content for discussion drawn from existing course materials (lecture notes, workbooks, textbooks, etc);
• Are facilitated by trained PSLG Leaders, who are bright and responsible students who successfully completed targeted courses/modules in the previous year(s). Leaders facilitate and encourage the group to process the material rather than teach the participants;
• Promotes and encourages interdependent learning, whereby active collaborative group learning is encouraged, participatory and facilitated by the Leaders.
We believe that the PSLG scheme has significantly contributed to improving our first-year students’ learning and academic performance. This has been demonstrated by the results of qualitative and quantitative measures, analysis and comparisons between tutored and untutored students, which will be described in this paper. We also believe that the PSLG can be a useful addition to all undergraduate courses in UL that would contribute significantly to increasing student motivation, enhancing their quality of learning, improving their academic performance, help students’ adjustment to campus life/culture, reducing failure rates and increasing retention, when properly implemented.
The paper begins by giving a rationale for the introduction of the PSLG to the targeted subjects, followed by descriptions of the operational structure of the scheme highlighting the difficulties encountered at the initial stages and the measures taken to alleviate these difficulties. Quantitative measures for evaluating the effect of the PSLG on student’s performance, as well as analysis of feedback collected from the students and the tutors/leaders, are presented and discussed. The paper concludes by identifying the ingredients for a successful PSLG programme, outlining means for improving the current scheme and highlighting planned further developments.