Students supporting peer learning: improving the learning experience

K Tangalakis1, E Rybalka1, A Hayes1, J Hammill1 and DH Hryciw2

  1. Victoria University, PO Box 14428, Melbourne, VIC 8001, Australia
  2. The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, 3010, Australia

Student peer mentoring programs focus on the power of students supporting other students and are based on the principles of collaborative learning, intending to benefit both mentors and mentees. At Victoria University, we use peer mentoring in various contexts, to improve the engagement and learning outcomes for students from diverse educational and cultural backgrounds. Peer-assisted study sessions are supplemental academic sessions facilitated by high-achieving senior students, designed to assist commencing students with their understanding of human bioscience. Whilst successful, this program relies on voluntary participation and funds to pay mentors. Within the Biomedicine course, formalised cross-year peer teaching scenarios are embedded into the curriculum to: improve the learning environment through peer support; improve laboratory and research skills of students through a student-centred, problem-based learning approach; and enhance the development of graduate capabilities such as teamwork, problem solving, and communication skills. In one initiative, first year students (mentees) undertaking the core unit Research Methods work collaboratively with third year students (mentors) undertaking the unit Growth & Aging, on a research project on the medical and psychosocial factors of aging. Mentors present their research project orally and as a written abstract, which are peer critiqued by the mentees. Mentors and mentees also work together to examine data from a pre-designed experiment on stress effects upon cognition and spatial awareness. Subsequently they identify limitations and re-design the study to address them, which is undertaken in the following laboratory class. This exercise is an important prelude to assessment items for both student cohorts. Significant support has been received from both years of students, many reporting improved skills and confidence.