22 SES 07 E, Teaching and Learning: Innovative Approaches
Maths support provision has been widely used at universities to support students in studying maths related modules. One type of such maths support is peer assisted learning (PAL) which has already demonstrated its effectiveness in improving students’ academic performance (e.g. [1, 2]). The key element of PAL is that senior students often act as peer leaders providing learning support for junior students.
PAL is grounded in social constructivist learning theories [e.g. 3, 4] which emphasise that learning is constructed in an interactive social context. As a result, students who collaborate with their peers and take an active approach to their learning, earn higher grades and develop a deeper understanding of subject content than students who do not. PAL schemes are used for decreasing students’ drop-out rate, improving students’ performance in ‘high risk’ courses, and developing students’ competences and skills [5-7].
This paper presents the results of ongoing collaborative research between University West (Sweden) and Lancaster University (UK) which investigates the use of PAL in supporting students who study maths [8-11].
This paper discusses the role of peer leaders in providing maths support for students studying maths as a core subject. PAL sessions are embedded in the course delivery; the peer leaders run weekly optional sessions guiding students through the problem-solving process, working with the students in small groups. The module leader (usually a member of academic staff) explains the benefits of PAL sessions to the students and encourages the students to attend.
In particular, this paper analyses the impact of the peer leaders on delivering successful PAL sessions, improving students’ learning experience and students’ academic performance. The study evaluates the lessons drawn from using PAL in maths-intensive programmes. This study demonstrates that both organisational and pedagogical aspects should be considered when introducing PAL.
The objectives of the study are:
- To evaluate the impact of peer leader involvement on students’ learning experience and academic performance when using PAL;
- To evaluate peer leaders’ experience;
- To evaluate the impact of collaboration between peer leaders and module leaders for a successful implementation of PAL;
- To analyse the challenges facing peer leaders in their preparation for assisting on maths-intensive modules.
PAL was implemented at University West in 2014-15 and 2017-18 for first-year students on the Land Surveyors programme to address high rates of exam failure on the ‘Algebra and Calculus I’ module which was fundamental for the students’ future study. The PAL scheme ran in addition to lectures and seminars and covered the topics where students struggled the most. This PAL support was optional, but all students registered on the module were encouraged to attend. The PAL sessions included a brief summary of the topic, practical exercises, and discussions. Students worked collaboratively with their peers under the guidance of a peer leader to acquire deeper understanding of the subject material and to develop their competences in using maths tools. The sessions lasted for two hours and were offered on a weekly basis for 7-8 weeks. The PAL peer leaders were recruited from second- and third-year students who successfully studied this module. Peer leaders undertook specialist training based on training material provided by Lund University. The peer leaders had regular contacts with the PAL administrator / manager during the whole duration of the module who helped in organasing PAL sessions. The peer leaders had control over running the PAL sessions. In 2014-15 the module leader had weekly meeting with the peer leaders to discuss and plan PAL sessions. However, in 2017-18 the peer leaders had more contacts with the PAL administrator/manager who could advise them on how to run a successful session. The students used Facebook to post their questions to the peer leaders. To evaluate the students’ and peer leaders’ experience, the students who attended the PAL sessions and peer leaders, were asked to complete a questionnaire. In total, 69 students who attended the PAL sessions in both academic years and 7 peer leaders completed the questionnaires.
The study demonstrated that the students evaluated their experience of PAL sessions positively. Their responses showed that the role of the peer leader is crucial for the successful implementation of PAL. The peer leader’s subject knowledge, ability to understand what the students do not understand and then clearly explain the concepts through working with the group were highly valued. Peer leaders who were able to perform these tasks better also had a higher attendance at their sessions. The interviews with the module leader gave a valuable insight into importance of peer leader – module leader collaboration. In 2014-15 the peer and module leaders worked closely to prepare PAL sessions. The module leader suggested the problems which should be covered in the sessions to ensure the smooth running of the sessions and to provide a structured approach to learning. In 2017-18 the peer leaders worked more independently asking the students to post the questions they need help with on Facebook. The peer leaders mentioned that they had to spend a lot of time preparing to the sessions. This could be avoided if the peer leader had more contact with the module leader who could advise him on the subject related issues. The weekly meetings with PAL manager could not help with resolving this matter. The peer leaders highlighted the benefits of running the PAL sessions such as developing leadership, communication and problem-solving skills, reinforcing their subject knowledge and increased self-confidence. They also pointed out the importance of providing regular PAL sessions to develop students’ maths knowledge and the need of further subject related training. The study gives recommendations on successful implementation of PAL in maths modules.
1.Topping, K.J. 2006. Trends in peer learning. Educational Psychology 25, no. 6: 631–45. 2.Dawson P., Van der Meer J., Skalicky J., Cowley K. “On the Effectiveness of Supplemental Instruction: Systematic Review of SI and Peer-Assisted Study Sessions Literature between 2001 and 2010”, Review of Educational Research, 2014, vol. 84, No 4, pp.609-639 3.Ning N.K. and Downing K. 2010. The impact of supplemental instruction on learning competence and academic performance. Studies in Higher Education Vol. 35, No 8. Pp 921-939. 4.Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 5.Hurley, M., Jacobs, G. and Gilbert, M. 2006. The basic SI model. In Supplemental instruction: New visions for empowering student learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 106, ed. M.E. Stone and G. Jacobs, 11–22. San Francisco, CA: Wiley. 6.Malm J., Bryngfors L. and Morner L. 2012. Supplemental Instruction for improving first-year results in engineering studies. Studies in Higher Education Vol. 37, No 6. Pp 655-666. 7.Inhelder, B., & Piaget, J. The growth of logical thinking. New York: Basic Books, 1958. 8.Nilsson G. and Luchinskaya E. “Developing Competences Using Problem-based Learning: a Case Study of Teaching Mathematics to Computer Science Students”, Journal of Research in Teacher Education, 2007, No 3. pp. 13-21. 9.Luchinskaya E, Nilsson G., Kristiansson L., “Higher Education in Change: Peer-assisted learning applied to Mathematics and Physics for engineers”. ECER 2010, Helsinki, Finland, 2010. 10.Nilsson G., Luchinskaya E, and Kristiansson L., “Enhancing students’ performance in maths through Supplemental Instruction”. ECER 2016, Dublin, Ireland, 2016. 11.Nilsson G. and Luchinskaya E., “Embedded or Ad-hoc Peer Mentoring? In Search of Best Practice of Supporting Students Studying Mathematics”. ECER 2017, Copenhagen, Denmark 2017.
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