Case Study 1 - Enhancing student engagement through peer assisted learning

Davis, Katherine

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Impact Summary

The innovative peer assisted learning scheme (PALS) was commended for the impact that PALS has had on the learning of thousands of students in my UKPSF level 3 Senior Fellow application. Improved student motivation to learn has transformed their lives especially those who struggle with communication and lack confidence in their own ability. The success of the scheme has had a wider impact through its use in partner colleges and other faculties within the University and external institutions. The scheme addressed the lack of 1 to 1 support for students in practice based modules with existing student staff ratios. It relies on the recruitment of students who have previously passed the module and is a sustainable low cost additional support strategy that students are keen to join. I published a collection of relevant extracts from key texts that saved students purchasing multiple text books and support materials for peer leaders and students to use.

Key Achievements

  1. Significant retention and attainment figures
  2. Creation of a peer leader role has developed a professional, academic relationship between the peer leaders and staff which increased their sense of belonging to our academic community
  3. Student learning progressed more quickly through timely resolution of their problems due to increase teaching team numbers
  4. Module focussed resources allowing purchase of a single text book
  5. Peer leaders improve their chance of employment and reinforce their own learning
  6. Proven success through use in multiple modules, partner colleges and external insititutions

Key Aims

The purpose of the PALS was to address the poor attendance of laboratory sessions and decrease the pressure on teaching staff in laboratory based teaching. This was the first time within the University that a peer based support strategy had been used although at the time it was beginning to be reported in the literature. My intention was to significantly improve the student learning experience in a cost effective way and give student peer leaders an opportunity to gain transferable skills for employment.


Initially I had to recruit a student team from the previous year cohort who had experienced a relatively negative practical experience. I produced an attractive job description and ensured that all students were aware of the opportunity and the benefits it might bring. I used communication via message boards as well as posters and personal publicising of the position to enhance awareness. Selection was by interview to ensure that applicants understood the commitment they would need to make. The teaching team also had to be committed to the approach and understand how to make the increased resource benefit student learning. I achieved this through mentorship for the staff concerned. Tailored resources for the module and session were essential; I produced a collated text book negating the need for purchase of multiple texts and could easily be updated by myself. Student feedback was a key measure of success.

Key Outcomes

Without exception, PALS has improved retention and attainment in my courses. In the first year of PALS introduction in 2008 on BB1754, there was a 40% increase in attendance to lab sessions compared to previous years. A consistent and sustainable improvement in student achievement measured by grade attainment has been noted since the introduction of the scheme. Only 8% of students (on BB1754) attained an A grade in 2006 (60 student: 1 staff ratio). Using one PAL to support one lecturer, in 2009, 19% of students achieved an A grade, when two PALS to one lecturer were introduced in 2010, 70% achieved an A grade. This indicates an optimal ratio for learning. The success of the scheme has made other lecturers keen to adopt it for their own modules. I have encouraged and helped them to become confident to use PALS especially when teaching large modules. I am recognised in the Business School as an authority on large module delivery and have given talks and presentations about this valuable approach in different departments and faculties as well as investing time to mentor colleagues. Examples are: BO5501, BH5004, BB4302, BB6112, BB6307, BB7515, BB7584, BH7630. Peer leaders were recruited from a variety of degrees across the Business School in the first year of running in 2010/11 on BB1754, 75% of the recruited students were BAME and this trend continued with 2011/12 85% were BAME. Student feedback indicates that they enjoyed this learning style, the use of a single textbook and easy access to advice. An example being where I was course director for BSc Business Information Technology from 2015-18 and the cohort had between 65% and 90% BAME students and in 2015/2016, 91.7% of the BAME students gained a good degree against an expectation of 75.5% (Value Added score of 1.24).

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