Peer Assisted Learning: how did the PAL pilots go in 2015-16 at Reading? by Caroline Crolla

I’ve gained more knowledge regarding the module & find it easier to ask for help. (Maths PAL participant)

[PAL] is a more interactive way of working, more group work, some sharing about 4th year placement and the usefulness of this module for next year (S&L Therapy PAL participant)

It’s great to see people leave sessions feeling like they understand what they were struggling with. (PAL Leader, Creative Writing)

It’s great, [PAL] really helps with understanding work. (PAL Leader, Art)

Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) was introduced at the University of Reading in 2015-16 in a few departments as pilot schemes, with the longer term aim of establishing the scheme across the university. Five departments took part in the first pilot which ran from November 2015 to May 2016.  The pilot schemes have now been evaluated and here are some of the findings.

Participating departments in 2015-16

Economics

Mathematics and Statistics

Speech and Language Therapy

Fine Art

English Literature: Creative writing

What is Peer Assisted Learning?

Peer Assisted Learning is a scheme where students in the same subject learn together with their peers. PAL sessions are run by experienced student who have been trained as facilitators, also known as PAL Leaders, who are regularly debriefed by programme academics.

HEIs with experience of PAL have found that the scheme contributes to improved retention, engagement and performance through shared learning, engendering stronger links between academics and students as well as providing an additional form of feedback.

The principles underpinning Peer Assisted Learning include:

  • the PAL scheme should target high risk modules or courses, not high risk students
  • student participation should be voluntary and it should supplement not replace core teaching
  • student PAL Leaders are facilitators and not quasi-lecturer

What are PAL positives?

Academics reported that introducing PAL was not time consuming but that they did need to endorse and promote their PAL scheme more in order to increase attendance of at PAL sessions. All academics involved in PAL described how the scheme influenced their pedagogy.  They mentioned how much the PAL leaders had developed in the process.

Nothing additional to prepare; I am developing my teaching material because I have changed aspects of the module and my prep is being helpfully informed by having the two PAL Leaders and their sessions in mind.

I have had to think about my teaching materials more closely, because I have PAL in mind. I have reviewed what I am putting in the lectures and what not; what I want the PAL Leader to have or do, or not. This has been good for me…and the students I hope.

I am very impressed with [the PAL Leaders].   I think they are doing so well and really benefiting. 

To maximise effectiveness

The pilots have flagged up three key factors that influence the effectiveness of PAL

Attendance

To maximise attendance Departments need to ensure that PAL sessions appear on students’ timetables and are roomed and timetabled at appropriate times within the module so that participants can attend. PAL is voluntary and for students to benefit from attending sessions access needs to be made possible.

PAL Leaders and participants understand the benefit of collaborative learning

Leaders, participants and academic staff need to be clear about the benefits of working collaboratively on cognitively difficult material. Peer assisted learning is a structured way of peers learning together.  It is not remedial support. One hour of PAL can equal to three hours of working alone.

Increasing engagement by academics

If peer assisted learning is part of a subject’s offer, then it needs regular endorsement by academic contacts and the PAL leaders need regular reviews with the academic contact throughout the term. Increased publicity and visibility of the PAL sessions within departments will help with attendance.

What next?

  1. In 2016-17, more modules will be supported by Peer Assisted Learning sessions in Psychology, Classics as well as in Art, Speech and Language Therapy, English Literature and Mathematics.
  2. From the 14 PAL Leaders who trained to facilitate learning of their peers in 2015-16, 34 prospective PAL leaders will be trained in 2016-17 to support a range of modules.
  3. Academics in Mathematics, who have been enthusiastic early adopters of PAL, have decided to offer PAL in Mathematics as an optional Part 3 module and 9 students have been successfully selected to become PAL Leaders to support the Part 1 core module ‘Real Analysis’.

Would you like to get involved?

PAL at Reading had a great first year because of the enthusiasm of staff and students who had a deep commitment to learning and who saw the positive and holistic benefits of PAL. However, there is a lot more scope to deploy peer assisted learning in many contexts, so if you are an academic interested in adopting PAL for one or more of your modules or you would like to find out more, please contact: Caroline Crolla, PAL Coordinator, c.s.crolla@reading.ac.uk  | pal@reading.ac.uk or phone 0118 378 6593.   I work in the Student Success Team which is located in Blandford Lodge, G17, Whiteknights campus.

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