New peer-to-peer programme improves student grades at UC

After a semester of piloting a new peer-to-peer learning programme at the University of Canterbury, results have shown that on average students who attended at least two sessions achieved a whole grade point higher than other students in the class.

Under the scheme, first-year students are given the opportunity to learn from actual experiences of students who have already succeeded in the same course, easing feelings of uncertainty, and building confidence as they begin their university experience.

Peer Assisted Learning Sessions (PALS) is proving to be another success under the umbrella of the University’s Student Success programme, Kia Angitu, which aims to help students transition into their first year of university and make the most of their studies.

The peer-to-peer programme involves regular study sessions aligned with a course, facilitated by successful past students of that course. Students receive academic support in a relaxed and relatable environment, enabling them to develop new study skills and techniques to become confident independent learners. The focus is on general study advice including taking notes and reading academic journal articles, as well as navigating resources such as the University’s student portal.

Results from the pilot show 96% of students who attended at least one session said PALS helped them better understand course material, while 88% thought PALS supported them in keeping up with the course.

Student feedback of the pilot, which was aligned to a first-year psychology paper for semester one this year, suggests that the programme is a useful tool in building confidence and study skills.

May Gernhoefer joined PALS after getting a concussion two weeks into her first year at UC and was struggling with her course as a result. She says she “definitely would not have passed without PALS” and is grateful that her tutors encouraged her to attend the course.

“My PALS tutor was a student in third-year at UC and he went through everything, making it a very personal experience. He taught me study tips like how to write notes and prepare for exams, it was good to spend time actually going over and revising the content with someone who knows how to do it.

“He also taught me how to use general tools like Learn, how to do special consideration submissions, and where the disability place is. And he was on my case about doing required readings, which turned out to be great actually because I did need those to pass the course.” Another student wrote, “These sessions are also beneficial since they allow you to learn from your peers as well as the tutors. Taking up this opportunity has made me feel more confident in what we learn in PSYC105.”

Following a kaupapa of ‘helping you to help yourself’, PALS supports the transition to university by equipping students with the skills they need to become independent learners. Going beyond the books, the students not only develop skills in revising and learning specific course content, but they also develop connections with their peers and learn how to navigate university life in general.

The PALS pilot is continuing alongside a first-year statistics paper for semester two and is looking to become a more established programme at UC, supporting another cohort of first-year students in 2022.