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The Peer Impact Project: Mid-Project Perspective from the Biological Psychology Programme

Bella Magner, student researcher on the Peer Impact project, updates us on project protocols and initial findings.

The Peer Impact project is a cross-disciplinary study of how peer mentoring programmes impact educational attainment for mentees. This is one of the first quantitative studies in this area, with Biological Psychology being one of the programmes in the study. The Biological Psychology peer programme runs for first year psychology students, to help them with the often-difficult lectures that they receive… So, let’s give an update!

Addressing the Ethics

As some of you may know from the previous blog post on this project, we did encounter some ethical teething issues! So, in order to honour the requests made by the Ethics Committee we made some changes.

Firstly, I went to the first-year student’s lecture to advertise the project to them and collect their consent forms. By doing this we achieved a non-coercive feel to the participant recruitment process, while also allowing the mentees to ask a fellow student their thoughts on participating – and how good the rewards were!

This was followed up with an information session delivered by Dr Fawcett who double checked with potential participants that they knew what they were signing up for! Overall, for Biological Psychology we have ended up with 38 participants, which considering we are nearing the end of the academic year, is pretty good!

Overview from the Participant Perspective

The students are given multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) before each pre- lecture session which comes before the official lecture and is peer-led, and then again after the post-lecture session which comes after the official lecture, which is also peer-led:

In the figure above, normal session refers to the standard peer-mentoring sessions for the programme, and repeat allocated slots refers to the assigned protocols that participants complete which will be explained below.

The MCQ element of the project provides the mentees with another incentive – the opportunity to practice MCQ’s written by their lecturers before the exam. This has never been available before, so really is valuable! At the end of the project, all of the MCQ tests and their answers will be uploaded onto ELE for the entire cohort – so even if mentees could not commit, they still reap the benefits!

The protocols for the project can be seen here:

1-4 refers to the protocol/group assignment of participants. The ‘Test’ element refers to the MCQ’s being used as a test of learning gain before, and after each session that is delivered.

So, what have we been doing in these sessions?

Pre-Lecture Sessions (Intro)

These sessions come after the first MCQ test and are an opportunity to have a group discussion around broad topics that will be covered in the upcoming lecture. For the Biological Psychology programme, we have been using a format of videos with applied information on the topics, and then a group write up of thoughts and main discussion points around these.

These sessions have really been a fantastic way to lower some barriers that first-year students may feel with students in later years, and to have some time to enjoy topics before really getting into them!

Mentees have said…

“The pre-sessions were useful to get into the mindset for the topic and explore what we already know. They helped to point out gaps in knowledge, as well as focusing our attention on things we may not be so sure about.”

Mentors have said…

“I really enjoy them and helping run them. I think they’re a good opportunity to have a debate about the upcoming topics in a relaxed and judgement-free environment. The mentees seem a lot more relaxed during the session and often contribute really diverse feedback about topic questions. Having videos preceding the questions/debate is a sound idea.”

Post-Lecture Sessions (Review)

These sessions come before the second MCQ test are in the format of the usual Biological Psychology peer-mentoring sessions. The mentoring team collaborate to make an interactive PowerPoint on the most recent lecture. Each mentor creates activities where questions are asked on the lecture content for their allocated section and then mentees answer the questions…

In these sessions we try and promote group discussion and encourage asking questions about anything they are still unsure on. All mentors provide extra revision material and explanations in the footnotes for revision purposes.

Mentees have said…

“Very, very helpful in recapping the information from the lectures in a more simple and concise well, good exam style question practice and lovely people to ask any questions to.”

Mentors have said…

“The post sessions have been overwhelmingly positive, mentees are (almost) always engaged, and respectful. Mentees appreciate the effort mentors put in which inspires me to put in extra. The post sessions have improved my confidence, provided me a chance to develop presentation skills, and to be part of a collaborative team. An excellent opportunity for personal, and workplace skill development.”

Overall, you can see the impact that this project is making on the first-year students. Those who attend pre session are vocal in the post and will answer each other’s questions instead of always defaulting to mentors. They are all enthusiastic and have found it has boosted their confidence.

Here are some key words from first-year students, and mentors in Biological Psychology that are prominent in feedback:

For now, we do not have quantitative results to display, but if the feedback (from anonymous surveys) is any indication, I think we can expect the incubator projects prediction of peer programmes leading to a learning gain to be confirmed.

The Incubator Project team is excited to be presenting some preliminary qualitative results at 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.

I hope to see you there!


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