Learning and Teaching Investment Fund 2009

Summary of Projects

Project Title

Using Peer Tutoring to Enhance Engagement and Improve Academic Performance Across Disciplines

Project Leaders

Dr Sophia Xenos

Project Summary

This LTIF project aimed to utilize peer tutoring to improve the retention, academic performance, and wellbeing of students across a number of disciplines, as well as to assist staff by decreasing the educator/student ratio in large classes across these disciplines.

The LTIF project was designed to validate the efficacy of the peer-tutoring model beyond the initial pilot cohort (psychology) by rolling out the model in 3 courses across two Colleges (SEH & DSC). Letters of support from the Heads of School for these three courses were obtained prior to the submission of the LTIF application. These three courses were strategically selected to represent not only different disciplines and student cohorts across the University, but to highlight different types of transition that have previously proven problematic for the Programs: group-based learning; first year; and placement work respectively.

The project was based on a distinctive peer tutoring program initially developed and evaluated by Andrea Chester, Rick Ryan, and Sophia Xenos in 2008 with the aim of enhancing the transition, engagement, and acquisition of foundation academic skills in large first year Psychology classes (ie., The Psychology Peer Assisted Tutorial Support (PPATS) project). This project has involved the unique collaboration between the SEH Academic Development Group (ADG: Rick Ryan), Psychology Division academics (SEH: Andrea Chester, Sophia Xenos), and academics from Civil, Environmental, & Chemical Engineering (SEH: Dr Ji Li), Architecture & Design (DSC: Liam Fennessy); Property Construction & Project Management (DSC: Mark Vine), and the Study and Learning Centre (SLC: Paula Keogh).

Peer to Peer (P2P) is a peer-to-peer interaction program aimed to enhance students’ academic achievement and wellbeing and making effective use of later year student experiences. To ensure maximum student engagement, the P2P model embraced universal design principles by being embedded into the program in scheduled tutorial time.

Outcomes

The LTIF project utilised randomised controlled trial methodology to evaluate the efficacy of P2P. Qualitative data revealed that the P2P program facilitated the emergence of a genuine learning community and resulted in several academic, social, and psychological benefits for students and peer tutors. While the results did not reveal significant improvement in students’ course grades, improvements were noted on students’ life satisfaction, psychological wellbeing, and group work skills in comparison to controls. A range of benefits was also noted for peer tutors including the reinforcement of their own academic skills, improvement in leadership competencies, and a heightened sense of purpose and responsibility.

Embedding P2P in the first semester of first or second year courses appears to provide a solid foundation from which students can benefit throughout their academic career. To date the project has been disseminated through a series of internal RMIT University workshops, papers at national FY conferences, several journal articles submitted for publication, and an ALTC grant application involving the collaboration of additional universities at the national level.

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