How Peer-Support Tutorials Work
The peer-supported tutorials (PSLG) initiative is a proactive academic assistance program that focuses on historically-difficult courses/modules and not weak students. The emphasis in PSLG is on helping students acquire and refine the learning skills essential to master course content. PSLG sessions are led by student leaders specially trained to help students become independent learners.
PSLG integrates how-to-learn with what-to-learn. Students who attend PSLG sessions discover appropriate application of study strategies, e.g. note taking, questioning techniques, jargon acquistion, and exam preparation, as they review content material.
PSLG Student Leaders/Tutors
The student leader/tutors are key people in the PSLG model. They are presented as model students of the difficult modules. The leaders are trained on the principles of PSLG. Ideally, their task is to facilitate and encourage the group to process the material rather than lecture to participants.
The PSLG supervisor implements and supervises the PSLG programme and leaders. This person is responsible for identifying the targeted courses, discussing the programme with faculty, selecting and training student leaders, monitoring the quality of the PSLG sessions, evaluating the programme, and reporting results.
Surveys conducted in the States have shown consistently that PSLG participants have higher grades and lower drop-out rates than non-participants. Results in UL to date mirror this trend. The following chart shows the grades of first-year students for the module ET4101. You can see that the students who attended more than four PSLG sessions performed considerably better in the module than those who attended none.
What's in a name?
There are many acronyms associated with the peer-supported learning group (PSLG) model. In the United States, where it originated, it is referred to as Supplemental Instruction (SI). In the UK, it is more commonly referred to as peer-assisted learning (PAL) although the terms SI and peer-supported tutoring are also used.
The American Model - Supplemental Instruction (SI)
The SI model originated in the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC SI Model) in the 1970's with a view to combatting the problem of high drop-out rates in certain courses. SI is considerably more established in higher education in the States than in the UK or Ireland, running in over 300 institutions. SI tends to be quite homogenous in the US, in that the same principles tend to be applied strictly across all institutions.
The British Model - Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL)
Unlike SI in the States, PAL in the UK has many variants and has seen more organic growth, partly perhaps because PAL is at an earlier, developmental stage in the UK. SI student leaders are expected to attend first years' lectures in the States. This is not usually a practical proposition in the UK. SI leaders run three to five support sessions a week. Again, it is more practical in the UK to expect leaders to run only one to two sessions. Generally, PAL is seen as being a more informal, ad hoc support mechanism than SI.
The UL Model - Peer-Supported Learning Groups (PSLG)
PSLG sessions were initiated six years ago by Dr. Hussain Mahdi in the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering (ECE) as a response to poor grades in historically difficult modules. The PSLG sessions for the Autumn semester of 2009 are currently targeted at the modules, EE4101, EE4113, EE4817 and CE4817 for first, second and fourth year BSc and BEng students.