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Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) at University of Bedfordshire Eve Rapley Centre for Learning Excellence 28 th January 2013. ” I get by with a little help from my friends ”. PAL Leader class of 2012/2013 . Today’s talk will include:. What PAL is all about

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Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) at

University of Bedfordshire

Eve Rapley

Centre for Learning Excellence

28th January 2013

I get by with a little help from my friends”

PAL Leader class of 2012/2013

Today s talk will include
Today’s talk will include:

  • What PAL is all about

  • How PAL can improve the transition of new first year students into university life and support their learning

  • PAL at the University of Bedfordshire

  • How to implement PAL

What is PAL?

Peer Assisted Learning

“PAL is a scheme that fosters cross-year support between students on the same course. It encourages students to support each other and learn co-operatively under the guidance of students from the year(s) above”

What is pal
What is PAL?

PAL aims to help students to:

  • adjust quickly to university life;

  • acquire a clear view of course direction and expectations;

  • improve their study skills/adjust their study habits to meet the requirements of higher education;

  • enhance their understanding of the subject matter of their course through collaborative group discussion;

  • prepare better for assessed work and exams

Why can 1 st year 1 st term be tricky
Why can 1st year, 1st term be tricky?

Much has been written about attrition and

retention of 1st year students

Issues with…………..

Academic competence

Settling in




Home sickness

Work life/Home life balance

Transition from school

Why can 1 st year 1 st term be tricky1
Why can 1st year, 1st term be tricky?

Such issues can =====>

Poor motivation

Poor engagement

Poor attendance

Poor attainment

Retention and dropping out ?

Frustration and concern for academics?

Feeling part of it…essential element

“For some students, a sense of belonging will develop as a matter of course; for others this may not happen unless the institution makes an effort” (Yorke & Longden, 2004)

Tinto’s Themes of Attrition and Model of Institutional Departure highlights “Difficult adjustment” and “Social isolation” as key factors for students dropping out (Tinto, 1975)

Feeling part of it

Social integration and social support: “attachment, social integration, opportunity for nurturance, reassurance of worth, a sense of a reliable alliance and obtaining guidance” (Weiss, 1969)

“The student’s peer group is the simply most potent source of influence on growth and development during the undergraduate years” (Astin, 1993)

“Making ‘compatible friends’ is essential to retention…such friends provide emotional support and buffering support in stressful situations” (Wilcox et al., 2005)

Feeling part of it

Put simply, if a student feels that they are part of something, that they have a few mates, that someone cares then, when the times of self doubt and wavering arise, they are more likely to stick it out.

Tinto refers to this as Persistence

Persistence occurs and increases when a student successfully integrates academically and socially into the institution

PAL is not a panacea, but it can play a significant role in cementing relations between students and the university

PAL is not something we have dreamed up…!

Based on S.I Model (Dr. Deanna Martin, University of

Missouri - Kansas, 1970s)

“Social constructivist perspective whereby students

make sense of material by questioning, listening,

communicating and explaining it to others”

(Johnson et al.,1998; Topping and Ehly, 2001).

S.I has specific focus on “hard topics” or those that students

often failed and struggled with. Less on socialization, more on

combatting failure and drop out

86% of UK universities offer student – student mentoring

(PAL, PASS, student facilitated study groups) inc.

Glasgow, Leeds, UCL, Edinburgh, Manchester, UWE, Ulster,

Middlesex, Bucks New, Bournemouth, Bath and Brighton

(Andrews & Clark, 2009)

PASS – S.I, more tutor led focus

PAL– socialisation, study guidance focus, more student led focus

In 2001 Bournemouth kicked off PAL in UK with £150,000

HEFCE funding from Fund for Development of Teaching and

Learning (FDTL3)

PAL is not something we have dreamed up…!

PAL well used worldwide, particularly used in

Australia, US, Canada, NZ, S.Africa

It is not:

+ A means of reducing existing lecturer-student contact

+ Students teaching other students

+ Remedial/special needs/deficit model

+ Not a place to moan or just bring problems

Why pal at bedfordshire
Why PAL at Bedfordshire?

Feedback from students and staff about the first year

experience prompted us to consider implementing a system

to foster a greater sense of community and cohort cohesion,

as well as helping to improve transition and retention

“hitting the ground running”

Massification of HE, our widening participation remit and

diverse student body made PAL even more apposite for

our university

Why PAL at Bedfordshire?

Learner Experience Strategy (December 2011)

To implement peer-learning and structured learning events that support and supplement formal contact, and provide additional practice of the approaches required in independent and self directed learning.

To identify a range of support measures and services

offered by the University in support of applicants and

potential applicants, particularly potential mature and part time students in their transition to higher education.

Why can 1 st year 1 st term be tricky2
Why can 1st year, 1st term be tricky?

Student reported their biggest worries in their early weeks and



Making friends

Reading the timetable

Knowing what the right level is for assignments

Navigating around the campus


Attitude of students in class (i.e. not committed, talking, not listening)

Pebblepad, VLE, library, using email – not knowing how to use them (or

use them properly)


What Turnitin is and how to use it

Booking rooms

Cost of studying; is it worth it?

Lost in translation
Lost in translation………..

We are all conversant in “academic-ese”……..but it’s

like a foreign language to new first year students

We expect students to know, but why would they know?

Pal helps students to
PAL helps students to:

“Walk the walk and talk the talk” of their discipline

Can give new students short cuts, tips and help with de-

mystifying discipline specific language/jargon and ‘university


“I wish someone had told me that sooner……..”

Pal helps students to1
PAL helps students to:

Form a cohesive group/subject community in a relaxed,

informal, yet structured way

Safe place to explore topics, ask “stupid questions” and get

some “insider knowledge”… academics, we think we

know, but we often don’t!

Students can often relate better to peers, rather than us

Old fashioned “prep time” in a busy student schedule

What is pal who s who
What is PAL? Who’s who?

Team roles and responsibilities:

1. University PAL Co-ordinator

  • Academic Course Contact (ACC)

  • PAL Leaders (2nd or 3rd year student)

  • Year 1 students

Pal leaders
PAL Leaders…..

+ are selected on the basis of their empathy skills, their ability to relate

and to be approachable

+ have “been there, done it and got the t-shirt”

+ are not there to teach, proof read or do someone’s work for them

+ share own experiences and those from their peers to help inform and guide new students

+ facilitate, work through student issues and unit materials from ACC

+ get PAL on their HEAR

+ supported to undertake Bedfordshire Edge Award

Pal leaders1
PAL Leaders…..

+ help students to help themselves….they need to be independent

+ listen, observe, include, be positive and professional

+ ask questions, don’t give answers

+ be aware of student support refer students to e.g. PAD, careers, S.U, personal tutors, SiD, counselling …..if in doubt, refer them on

+ Give up to the minute unit/course feedback to the ACC

Academic course contact acc
Academic Course Contact (ACC)

+ champions and promotes PAL within the department

+ local PAL Leader support and guide (regular contact)

+ provides materials for the PAL Leaders to use in PAL sessions

+ timetables sessions (approx 15-25 students per PAL group)

+ registers PAL Leaders on 1st year BREO unit, gives copies of assessments/hand in/out dates

PAL at Bedfordshire facts and figures….

Why pilot PAL?

To improve 1st year student transition, support and experience



Interior Design/Interior Architecture

Social Work


Sports Coaching


Performing Arts


28 PAL Leaders were trained and around 650 first year students

were provided with the opportunity to experience PAL during the

2011/2012 academic year

PAL at Bedfordshire facts and figures….

PAL now

Pilot feedback from student, PAL Leaders and tutors positive

Where now?


Interior Design/Interior Architecture

Social Work

Education Studies (plus Disability Studies, Early Years and Childhood and Youth)


Performing Arts

Theatre Studies


Music Technology




75 PAL Leaders were trained and around 1500 first year students are

having the opportunity to experience PAL during the 2012/2013

PAL facts and figures….

  • The PAL model at Bedfordshire:

  • Timetabled session for 15-25 1st year students

  • 1 hour a week (Guided independent study on KIS)

  • Terms 1 & 2

  • Linked to a 1st year core unit

PAL facts and figures….

  • The PAL model at Bedfordshire:

  • Sessions guided and facilitated by a pair of volunteer PAL Leaders*

  • Materials supplied by ACC and some created by PAL Leaders

  • All PAL groups observed during first 4 weeks

  • * Using a mix of year group pairings. 2011/2012 PAL Leaders all volunteered to do it again 2012/2013 (paid £125/term for the pilot)

Key findings and feedback


  • Average attendance was inline with national picture (40%) with some areas getting 90+% which is remarkable

  • Many groups have regular, repeat attendees

  • Feedback positive, particularly from international students

  • PAL makes a difference…FACT

  • The success is down to the PAL Leaders…FACT

  • Robust ACC support has contributed to PAL success…FACT

  • Similar findings 2012/2013; improved feedback in areas in 2nd cycle of PAL (departmental acculturation, ACCs being more experienced)

Key findings and feedback

Feedback being gathered via focus groups, 1-1 interviews and questionnaires

Teething problems

In pilot and now……

Timetabling – biggest factor here and elsewhere

Promotion (initial and on going)

Buy in from staff

Buy in from some students e.g. some did not ‘get it’

Key findings and feedback

"I just don't see how students learn anything when they talk to eachother," a faculty member told me recently. "Their conversations are sosuperficial. They get things wrong. I can hardly stand to listen tothem." (Maryellen Weimer, PhD)

1. Students learn content when they talk about it

2. Talking lets students learn from each other

3. Talking gives students the opportunity to practice using the languageof the discipline

4. Talking connects students with each other. In-class discussionshelp break through the anonymity of a large class where students don'tknow each and can't expect the teacher to know them

5. Talking connects students with the content. There's a thrill thatcomes when you start hearing yourself talk like a professional, when youfirst start to master the language and can make references the same waythe experts do

What 1st year students said……

“If it weren’t for PAL I would have left”

“Great to hear experiences of someone who has been through it”

“PAL has been massively helpful”

“I appreciate the support PAL gives me”

“I can’t relate to my lecturer...he is a bearded prof, I can’t tell him I don’t get it”

“PAL has been so good at helping me get my head around assignments”

“I am too embarrassed to ask questions in lectures so I ask in PAL instead”

What PAL Leaders said……

“My relationship with tutors has been enhanced through PAL”

“Being a PAL Leader has really improved my confidence”

“I’ve learned patience and have gained great personal satisfaction”

“Great preparation for a career in teaching”

“It’s been very gratifying seeing the regular attendees developing themselves”

“I’ve improved my planning skills through being a PAL Leader”

“PAL has been a great opportunity”

“My presenting and speaking skills have come on so much”

“I’ve enjoyed helping others”

What tutors said……

“It is quite demanding keeping on top of PAL and the groups, but the 1st years do love it, so it is worth it”

“My PALs are great at clearing up minor queries about where things are around the uni”

“I can tell the ones who go to PAL – they turn up being more switched on”

“Now PAL is established there is more a culture of questioning and discussing in class”

“It’s been really useful getting ‘news from the trenches’ about how they’re finding my lectures”

“I have seen quite a change in some of the PAL Leaders; they have grown in confidence”

“PAL helps students to hear the messages I want them to hear. They don’t want to listen to me going on about referencing, but they will listen to an experienced student ”

“PAL has helped create a good atmosphere in the class”

Celebrating the success of PAL…

Inaugural PAL Awards Event (25 April 2012)

PAL Leaders presenting their stories and experiences of PAL

24 April 2013 our VC will be hosting the event

Students get a University Certificate in recognition of their efforts and contribution

The future for PAL…

  • X4 fractional academic posts have been created to ensure each faculty has a local PAL Co-ordinator to oversee local PAL provision

  • PAL to be rolled out to every 1st year course between 2013 and 2015

  • Train experienced PAL Leaders to observe and mentor new PAL Leaders

  • Use existing PAL Leaders in the recruitment process

  • Develop a generic initial 2-3 week PAL programme

  • Introduce peer observation of PAL sessions between PAL Leaders

  • Pilot online models for students on placements e.g. social work/nursing

The future for PAL…

  • Develop cPALscoping/ exploratory at Bedford College using PAL with Foundation Degree students in partner colleges

  • “I feel the experience has benefited the students and will help with their transition to University for the third year”

  • Sue Brandreth; Course Leader - FdSc IT Networking & Security

  • “the PAL scheme helps students to develop the study skills they need to achieve, which makes them more likely to achieve the FdSc and more likely to progress to top-up to a BSc”

  • Ross Honeyman; Tutor - FdSc Sports Coaching/FdSc Sport Fitness & Personal Training

  • aPAL for Access students model to be explored (2013/2014)

Implementing PAL…

  • Needs staff buy in and dedicated ACC with TIME and ENTHUSIASM

  • Needs senior management to resist the “stats/prove it works/how does it save money?” attitude (see Habermas (1972) “instrumental rationality” … preoccupation with method and efficiency rather than with purposes)

  • Needs a great deal of planning and on-going support

  • PAL does not run itself

  • Needs sympathetic timetabling

  • Needs careful and consistent initial launch and ongoing promotion

  • PAL Leaders need robust training and on-going support

Thank you for your time