Peer impact – the story so far! by David MacDonald

Incubator Fellow Dr David MacDonald, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, speaks candidly about securing ethics approval and his project’s next steps.

The unwitting 'pilot study'

It’s been an eventful start to the peer impact project.

First of all, trying to convince a cohort of Year 1 BSc. Medical Sciences students to attend additional classes on top of an already crammed teaching schedule, and all for a good cause.  In the end, bribery was needed (in the form of a £10 gift voucher) – 89 students signed up as study participants in a flash!

Suddenly, a cold sweat – was this ethical?  Better ask the Medical School’s ethics committee.  This involved having to fill out a monumental form and having to wait for a month to be told that in fact it wasn’t ethical.  Can’t blame anyone else apart from me – seeking ethical approval is not something that can be rushed through.  Lesson learned.   Thus, hence forward, this part of the project shall be known as a ‘pilot study’ until ethical approval is in place for the actual proper studies planned for Term 2 (fingers’ crossed!).

So what is it that this project is aiming to achieve?

In a nutshell, solid qualitative evidence that participation in peer programmes has a measurable impact on learning gain (or not as the case may be.)  See graph below for a possible outcome – wouldn’t this be lovely?

grap 1

The ‘pilot study’ participants have been busy attending Introductory and review classes delivered by later year peer mentors each week (or not, depending on which of the four protocols they have been assigned to each  week – see study design below) and completing pre- and post-session MCQ quizzes, which is what we are using to measure  learning gain.

graph 2
Positive signs from the start...

The peer mentors have really shone throughout, having created all the session resources and delivered engaging sessions with enthusiasm. Here are some example quotes from participants who attended their sessions:

“[The Peer Mentors] did a fantastic job at inspiring us and gave clear, concise explanations, whilst also instilling confidence in us that we too would grasp the concepts!”

“All three students explained everything extremely clearly, were confident in presenting the content and encouraged us to engage with questions which helped my understanding”

Our data analyst is busy number crunching the weekly quiz response data as I type, so I can’t yet inform you how learning gain differed between each of the four protocols that participants rotated through each week. However, I do have some data based on participant responses to weekly evaluation surveys I managed to persuade 39 of the participants to complete – response data below.

table table1

Overall feedback is positive -the participants on the whole found the peer-led sessions valuable, but will these ‘good sensations’ translate into solid, quantitative evidence of their impact on learning gain?   It also sounds to me that the participants preferred the review sessions to the introductory sessions, which is something we can feed forward into the study design process for Term 2.

What’s next?

Well, in Term 2 Dr Gihan Marasingha will be leading a similar study within a year 1 mathematics module and Dr Tim Fawcett will be leading a study in a year 1 Psychology module.  Together these will be offering a cross-discipline analysis of the impact of peer programmes on learning gain.

An abstract we have submitted to the ALDinHE (Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) conference, which is being hosted by the University of Exeter on the 15th-17th April, 2019, has been accepted for a paper presentation, so some preliminary data to share with a wider audience then would be fantastic.

For information on David’s project follow the link and scroll to 2018/19 ‘Success for All’ 

Success for All

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