The School of Physical Sciences and Computing at the University of Central Lancashire introduced Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) across all Computing courses in 2016-17. British HEIs have run PASS and similar schemes for over 20 years, supported by the PASS National Centre.
In PASS, pairs of volunteer higher-year students (PASS Leaders) facilitate a group of first year students to discuss and solve their problems during informal weekly sessions. There is a weekly debrief of PASS Leaders with a member of staff (PASS Supervisor) to discuss issues raised by the first years and support the PASS Leaders. Troublesome topics are reported to the teaching team, so they can be addressed in future classes. Comprehensive training for PASS Leaders and Supervisors was purchased from the PASS National Centre.
The weekly one-hour sessions are in addition to the normal teaching events. They are scheduled sympathetically with the students’ timetables. The sessions offer first year students extra support, tailored to their needs because they identify the topics that they would like to explore further. The pair of PASS Leaders working with that group then facilitate group discussions or exercises designed to enhance the students’ understanding of those topics in an engaging and fun session.
PASS Leaders are students who have undertaken the same studies in a previous year. Consequently, the Scheme has fostered the creation of a community across all courses and years, which increases inclusivity and brings a greater sense of belonging to our student body.
To introduce the PASS Leaders to the first year as early as possible, the PASS Leaders support the students in practical classes during the 4-week team project that is the first module on our computing courses.
The scheme is voluntary, so not all students attend. Reasons for non-attendance range from having other commitments outside university to not seeing how the sessions would be of benefit to them. Buy-in from the teaching team is critical in promoting PASS to students, so that more students can see how it can enhance their studies.
The benefits for the first years who participate in the sessions are not only that they have a greater understanding of the topics. They have enhanced their friendship with their peers and with the higher year students, providing a wider informal support network. Moreover, because of discussion with higher year students, the first years have a greater understanding of what their course is about and where topics fit into the wider context of their degree.
The PASS Leaders benefit as much from the scheme as the students they support. In the end of year review 2016-17, the Leaders said that they had increased their confidence and had improved their organisational and interpersonal skills, amongst other things. Revisiting topics from previous years can also enhance their understanding of the material.
From an academic perspective, the scheme is working well, embedding into the culture of student life, and with support from the University, the scheme is being used in other areas of the School of Physical Sciences and Computing and has also been introduced across the University. We are considering expanding the PASS support to second year students.