What is PASS?
PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) is a practical application of peer learning in higher education (HE). It focuses around the concept of student-to-student interaction, with higher-year students (PASS leaders) running sessions for lower-year students (participants) in order to facilitate learning. The aim is to help participants consolidate their learning in a friendly and informal environment within the language of the discipline. PASS leaders do not teach.
This model was first developed in the USA, where it was known as Supplementary Instruction (SI). In the UK, it was introduced to the University of Manchester in 1995, now the National Centre for PASS/ SI. Many HE institutions, including UWTSD, have since followed their example by adopting PASS to supplement students’ university experiences.
On Lampeter Campus, the PASS scheme began in 2015/16 and has grown, thanks to the enthusiasm of leaders, participants, academic leads and supervisors, to include various disciplines within the Faculty of Humanities. Several forms of PASS have developed in this period, including the traditional group sessions based around challenging first and second year modules, sessions open to whole year groups of students, and a more informal drop-in approach. In addition, PASS leaders may, on occasion, work with academic leads in facilitating small group activities within relevant modules.
Benefits of PASS
- Friendly, informal forum for discussing ideas and developing independent study
- Establishing a learning community within the discipline
- Mentoring by students who have successfully completed the module or programme year
- Safe environment for making mistakes and building confidence
- Attainment of transferable skills including leadership, teamwork, planning, communication, facilitation and enhanced confidence
- Strengthening of own knowledge of the discipline
- High quality leader training programme, ongoing supervision, and access to facilitation toolkit
- Non-monetary rewards: book vouchers, hoodies, free lunch and refreshments during training, and recognition of role at certification ceremony
- Encourages more participatory and independent learning of all students involved
- Research suggests positive impact on student retention and attainment (Keenan 2014: 18-9)
- Academic supervision provides additional source of student feedback
- Potential for fewer enquiries from students. Leaders are trained to signpost participants to other university services, such as student services, the library, TEL, IT and appropriate lecturers
How does it work?
Nomination of potential leaders by academic leads and invitation sent to attend training. Students can also nominate themselves.
Mid-September Induction Week:
Preliminary meeting for nominated leaders and commencement of the two-day leader training.
Semesters 1 and/or 2:
Weekly, one hour PASS sessions and debriefs up and running.
Lecturers and programme coordinators decide if PASS is right for their programmes and suggest suitable leaders. Students can also nominate themselves but the academic lead/s needs to give their seal of approval. Trainees must complete all the training to a satisfactory level before they can go on to become active PASS leaders. When nominating students for leader training the following qualities should be considered:
- solid academic success
- good communication skills
- capacity to work independently and as part of a team
- empathy with the first year experience
- a non-judgemental, approachable manner
- organisational skills
A pre-training meeting is held for the nominated leaders early in induction week so they can find out more about PASS before committing to the training and the role. Those who wish to proceed then attend the two-day training led by qualified supervisors. Part of the training includes a session for the academic leads, existing leaders and PASS trainees to meet in order to establish their subject team. The rest of the training provides trainees with a tool-kit for facilitating sessions and also develops employment and life skills.
The content of the PASS sessions are based on the needs of the participants. For example, the session might include quick reviews of lecture content, exam revision, going over assignment briefs or subject-specific study skills. The sessions run on a weekly basis for one hour and are led by two or more leaders. On a few occasions leaders might also facilitate discussion and small group work within lectures under the supervision of the relevant lecturer.
The drop-in model is less group work oriented. Participants can arrive at any time during the allocated hour and either join in with the general discussion or have a one to one discussion with a leader about a specific matter.
The weekly debriefs involve the leaders, supervisors and academic lead/s and allow time for students and staff to reflect on the previous session and plan the next one.
Leaders can discuss the types of groupwork and learning strategies they used in their session and how effective they felt these to be. The debriefs are also an additional source of anonymised student feedback which can be of value to the academic lead, such as areas of particular difficulty for students within the module content. Individual student participants, however, are never discussed.
The total maximum time commitment for PASS leaders is two hours per week and for academic leads is up to one hour per week.
- is a methodology for learner support
- is small group learning
- is facilitated by other students acting as leaders
- is confidential
- is voluntary
- is non-remedial
- is participative
- encourages collaborative learning, rather than competitive learning
- is content based and process oriented
- integrates effective learning strategies within the course content
- works in the language of the discipline
- does not create dependency
- is pro-active, not reactive
- encourages learner autonomy
- helps decrease drop-out rates and aids retention
- provides opportunity to increase academic performance
- challenges the barriers between year groups
- benefits all students regardless of current academic competency
- gives privacy to practice the subject, make mistakes, and build up confidence
- helps students gain a clear view of course expectations