The University of New England — Peer Learning Program
The University of New England (UNE) Peer Learning Program, established in 2015, builds on the previous science Peer Assisted Study Sessions Program (HEPPP 2012–14). It offers a suite of student-led individual and group learning opportunities for all students. Peer learning is a robust, powerful method of learning; it is not a single undifferentiated educational strategy.
To capture the potential of peer learning for our diverse student population, the context, discipline and characteristics of students were considered in shaping the activities offered by each project:
- Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS): sciences and arts
- Peer-to-Peer Help: business and law
- Peer-Writing: multidisciplinary.
The program aims to:
- establish university-wide collaborative peer learning networks
- support students to develop a sense of student identity and belonging to the university community
- provide an inclusive environment for students to confidently engage with trusted peers in group and individual settings to develop critical academic and learning skills
- promote engagement and success through the development of self-efficacy, particularly for students who may have experienced educational disadvantage and those yet to develop the social and cultural capital associated with successful transition to university.
Activities and Progress
PASS and Peer-to-Peer Help provide scheduled weekly peer-led study groups in 21 first year units known to be challenging and most likely to impede student progression. A number of the units supported are in UNE’s Tracks and Pathways enabling programs, for students proceeding to degrees in sciences, business and law.
The study groups are led by highly successful senior students within the discipline who are trained in group facilitation techniques and mentoring. In each session, the Leaders guide students to collaboratively review notes, discuss concepts, work examples and share organisational and study strategies within the context of the unit.
Where possible, study groups meet in discipline teaching/research areas. The accessibility of the program was increased by offering evening sessions in the residential college precinct and using web conferencing software within unit Learning Management Systems to reach our large online cohorts in business and law.
These strategies promote a sense of inclusion within the discipline and signal peer learning as a normal process for new students. Peer-Writing, a new initiative conducted centrally in the UNE library, addresses the core writing support needs of students across disciplines and units.
Peer-Writing Tutors provide 162 individual online sessions and face-to-face help and are available on the weekend as well as during the week.
As a mainstream program, the UNE Peer Learning Program provides safe, welcoming and informal socially constructed learning spaces that encourage participation by students in underrepresented groups. Learning communities provide encouragement to students.
The program is regularly evaluated through administrative data, by end of trimester survey, and comparative academic outcomes.
The success of the program has been acknowledged by students in their enthusiastic decision to fund the program through their Student and Services and Amenities Fee. This, together with the financial support of some schools and the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), has seen the growth and further integration of the program. Peer learning opportunities are now an expectation of students and staff as a mainstream learning activity at the University of New England. In 2017, 28 units will be supported by up to 50 PASS and Peer-to-Peer Help sessions across the university in both on-campus and online mode.
Further research has been funded through the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) in 2017 to underpin ongoing development and inform the future direction of the program. Some initiatives in this area include centralisation of the program and the development of a web presence, making the program accessible to students studying online.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.