Peer tutoring (or peer mentoring, proctoring, and supplemental instruction) is a cost-effective means of providing academic support to students through the use of a valuable teaching and learning resource, namely other students. It involves training and resourcing successful, more experienced students to tutor novice students in a collaborative learning experience in which both parties richly benefit. Benefits include improved understanding and performance in the subject area involved, improved confidence and study skills, as well as on-going friendships. These benefits accrue to both parties. Peer tutors regularly report what we as teachers already know: that the best way to really develop one's understanding of an area is to teach it to some-one else.
This paper examines the development and evaluation of a pilot peer tutoring program conducted over two semesters in 1995 by the author with undergraduate Commerce students, many of whom were international students. Although the program was not without its problems (administrative as well as attitudinal on the part of some staff and students), it could only be seen as being highly successful in terms of the outcomes for all concerned: the course grades of tutees and the very positive evaluations of both tutors and tutees.
Peer tutoring is a cost-effective means of providing academic support to students, particularly during their first year year, through the use of a valuable teaching and learning resource, namely other students. It involves training and resourcing successful, more experienced students to tutor novice students in a collaborative learning experience in which both parties richly benefit. As the coordinator and supervisor of the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program at Queensland University of Technology points out, such programs essentially adopt "a student centred, collaborative, learning strategy ... to transform students from being passive, 'teacher' - dependent, uncritical recipients and reproducers of information into engaged, questioning, reflective and autonomous learners" (Gardiner, 1996, p. 2).
This paper examines the development and evaluation of a pilot peer tutoring program conducted over two semesters in 1995 by the author with undergraduate Commerce students, many of whom were international students. It argues that the benefits of peer tutoring are many, both for peer tutors and tutees. While schemes such as this may involve some organizational difficulties and investment of time and money, the positive learning outcomes are considerable.
It was decided to seek second and third year students who had achieved good grades in the nominated units to act as peer tutors to first year students who could benefit from extra assistance with the language and learning tasks in these courses. The Singapore Link association offered to help publicise the project and locate suitable tutors. The project, of course, was open to all Commerce students for whom it might be useful: Australian residents as well as overseas students. The coordinators of both units were consulted regarding the project and their cooperation sought. Originally it was envisaged that the unit lecturers and tutors might be able to nominate some dozen or so students as suitable and worthy "tutees" (i.e. students who were trying hard but still having considerable difficulty with the material) for the peer tutoring scheme. This proved impractical in the end, especially as there was opposition to the scheme from some staff in the Commerce programme. The concerns included a number of unfounded fears including the idea that the scheme might create extra work for unit lecturers and tutors and that peer tutors might "give students wrong information". The author managed to allay most of the concerns raised through a meeting with the staff concerned where these issues were more fully explored. Permission was gained from the C160 and C165 coordinators to speak directly to the students in their courses to explain the peer tutoring program and solicit participants.
Notices were posted around the university calling for "Successful 2nd & 3rd year Commerce students for a pilot PEER TUTORING program". Peer tutors were promised an initial two hour training workshop, on-going support, a final de-briefing workshop, some remuneration ($50-$75 book vouchers), and "a useful and enjoyable experience that will enrich your resume and enhance your future employability". Potential peer tutors were required to submit a very brief CV detailing their Murdoch academic record, past employment record and what they personally hoped to gain from the peer tutoring program. Suitable tutees were then sought by announcing the details of the program to C165 and C160 students at the commencement of two normal unit lectures. Interested students were asked to sign up on the ASU Student Learning noticeboard. Due to organisational difficulties, the pilot program did not commence until the second half of semester one (weeks 8 -13). Training workshops were held for twelve aspiring peer tutors who were each matched with a C165 or C160 student who had registered an interest in the program. Interestingly, overseas students slightly predominated over Australian residents for the tutors (seven compared to five) whereas Australian residents predominated over overseas students for the tutees (eight compared to four), ensuring a rewarding cross-cultural experience for many participants.
The program was repeated in semester two, again with the enthusiastic cooperation and support of the overseas students' association. Due to the perceived success of the program in semester one, considerably more students (both tutors and tutees) wanted to be involved in the program. The semester two program was advertised and conducted in the same way as in first semester except that the whole program began earlier and ran longer (weeks 5 - 13). A total of 23 peer tutors (with three tutoring in both subjects) participated in the second semester program which catered for the language and learning needs of a total of 38 C160 and C165 students. Overseas students were predominant in second semester, numbering 18 out of 23 tutors and 25 out of 38 tutees. Half of the tutors from first semester elected to participate again in the second semester program. The initial training session was conducted in conjunction with Sally Knowles but the on-going support and final evaluation for the semester two program was provided by Sally while the author was on long service leave.
The peer tutors were provided with background readings on the above matters to consolidate the discussion in the workshop. Copies of the current course outlines and other material (e.g. tutorial programmes) from the C160 and C165 units, obtained from the unit coordinators, were also provided. In addition, the C165 peer tutors were also provided with extensive support teaching material (including "model" or suggested answers to past assignment and exam questions) for the C165 unit developed by the author as a result of on-going support classes for this course and his research in this area. The peer tutors were given advice on how best to use this material and how to conduct one-to-one tutorials or consultations.
They were urged to adopt the procedures outlined in the Student Learning handout for students on individual consultations which clearly delineates what tutors can and cannot do for students and the respective roles and responsibilities of both parties in the tutoring process. It was stressed that the peer tutor's role was to act as a "facilitator" and guide. Peer tutors should be extra and non-threatening resource personnel who could encourage students' skill development, independence and confidence and thereby complement the teaching endeavours of their mainstream unit lecturers and tutors. The peer tutors' role was not to "give answers" to the students. Rather, their role was firstly, to help develop the students' thinking and understanding of the course content, tasks, and lecturers' expectations, and secondly, to help students develop appropriate strategies for dealing effectively with these.
On-going informal meetings of peer tutors (one in first semester and two in second semester) were scheduled to monitor the tutees' progress, share ideas and strategies and address any problems or concerns that had emerged. Unfortunately, these were not totally satisfactory in that not all the peer tutors attended. A clear majority did, however, and they rated the sessions as useful.
FINAL COURSE GRADES
|Table 1: C160 results|
|semester 1 (N=4)||-||-||1||3||-||-|
|semester 2 (N=15)||1||1||2||7||4||-|
|Table 2: C165 results|
|semester 1 (N=8)||-||-||-||1||5||2|
|semester 2 (N=24)||-||-||1||10||13||-|
|Table 3: TUTORS|
|Q1 (success of sessions)||very suc-|
|not sure (%)||not very |
|semester 1 (N=12)||2 (17%)||10 (83%)||-||-||-|
|semester 2 (N=21)||1 (5%)||18 (85.5%)||2 (9.5%)||-||-|
|Q3 (study skills improved)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=11)||7 (64%)||3 (27%)||1 (9%)|
|semester 2 (N=21)||15 (71%)||-||6 (29%)|
|Q4 (knowledge improved)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=10)||7 (70%)||-||3 (30%)|
|semester 2 (N=20)||16 (80%)||-||4 (20%)|
|Q5 (confidence improved)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=12)||9 (75%)||1 (8%)||2 (17%)|
|semester 2 (N=21)||15 (71%)||-||6 (29%)|
|Q8 (initial |
|Yes (%)||No (%)||Marginally (%)||"Not Appl-|
|semester 1 (N=10)||6 (60%)||-||4 (40%)||-|
|semester 2 (N=22)||11 (50%)||1* (5%)||6* (27%)||4* (18%)|
|* The student who circled "no", two who chose "marginally", and all four who wrote "not applicable" in their comments (didn't circle any of the three choices) had tutored in first semester and done their initial training session then. Most of the students, regardless of what they circled, gave positive comments (15 definitely positive, i.e. 71%, and 6 marginally positive) of the helpfulness of the initial training.|
|Q11 (volunteer |
|Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)||"Not Appl-|
|semester 1 (N=11)||9 (82%)||-||2 (18%)||-|
|semester 2 (N=21)||8 (38%)||1 (5%)||11 (52%)||1* (5%)|
|* One student didn't circle any of the three choices but commented that s/he is "not able to because I'm graduating end of this semester".|
|Table 4: TUTEES|
|Q's 1 & 2||Av. No. |
|Av. Length |
|semester 1 (N=12)||4.25 (s=2.56)*||1.1hrs (s=0.4)*|
|semester 2 (N=15)||6.7 (s=2.48)*||1.3hrs (s=0.4)*|
|* s = the standard deviation|
|Q3 (usefulness of sessions)||very useful||quite useful||not sure||not very |
|not useful |
|semester 1 (N=9)||6 (67%)||3 (33%)||-||-||-|
|semester 2 (N=15)||5 (33%)||7 (47%)||2 (13%)||1 (7%)||-|
|Q4 (study skills improved)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=12)||9 (75%)||-||3 (25%)|
|semester 2 (N=15)||10 (67%)||2 (13%)||3 (20%)|
|Q5 (knowledge improved)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=12)||11 (92%)||-||1 (8%)|
|semester 2 (N=15)||11 (73%)||-||4 (27%)|
|Q6 (confidence improved)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=12)||8 (67%)||1 (8%)||3 (25%)|
|semester 2 (N=15)||11 (73%)||3 (20%)||1 (7%)|
|Q10 (participate again)||Yes (%)||No (%)||Maybe (%)|
|semester 1 (N=12)||11 (92%)||-||1 (8%)|
|semester 2 (N=14)||13 (93%)||-||1 (7%)|
The results for students of C165: Principles of Commercial Law were even more pleasing. The majority of students in semester one received distinctions or high distinctions, and credits and distinctions in semester two. There were no failures recorded of the thirty two students in both semesters in the C165 course.
"Apart from gaining intellectually, I believe the tutee has also learnt expectations of university education, examinations technique, as well as confidence in coping with future courses. For myself it was a teaching experience as well as a learning process, especially in communication skills".Table 3 (ii) shows that most tutors felt that the tutees study skills had improved (60-70%). Comments given by the tutors to back up that perception included greater confidence of students discussing the issues without the need to refer to notes, the improved analytical approach of students to questions, an improved ability to identify the main issues of a case in C165, and to remember the concepts of the course.
Similarly, the overwhelming majority of the tutors (70-80% in both semesters) felt that their tutees' knowledge of the subject had improved as a result of the sessions. Comments largely centred around the demonstrated ability of their students to be able to discuss and re-explain concepts in their own words, to be able to ask good questions about something about which they were not sure, and to demonstrate an ability to think about the actual issues and concepts. For example,
"My tutee did not realize what she did not know about the subject. It was only through our study sessions that she found out what she did not know."Another tutor commented on the importance of delineating her role in the process of peer tutoring:
"I feel that my responsibility is not to be a lecturer but more as a guide if she faces any problems."Table 3(iv) demonstrates that a similar majority (around 70%) of tutors in both semesters felt that their students' confidence had improved as a result of the sessions. The peer tutors mentioned that their students were more vocal, less hesitant, and less dependant on the peer tutor. For example, one wrote that, "I always encourage her to think before I state my points so that she is not so dependant on what I say." Another tutor wrote, "Tutees attitude of accepting whatever being said by me and written down in text has changed to an active one." The tutees could now argue points and back them up effectively. Furthermore, a number of the peer tutors reported that their tutees were more confident in approaching their mainstream tutors and lecturers for help and more confident in participating in tutorials.
Tutors mentioned a range of problems experienced during the program with a large number involving coordinating timetables for meetings and other minor organisational matters. A small number of tutors mentioned problems with the commitment of their students in second semester, with some students not always preparing adequately for sessions and having different expectations. Some tutors talked about initial difficulties identifying the students' weaknesses and where to start. Many, however, reported no real problems.
Regarding the question of what tutors had learned or gained from participating in the scheme, responses were very varied and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Most talked about the improved knowledge and understanding that they gained of the subject area taught. They reaffirmed what we as teachers already know: that the best way of really learning and understanding a subject is to try to teach it to someone else. A substantial number of tutors also reported an increase in their own confidence, an improvement in their communication skills, and a greater sense of self worth from doing something meaningful for someone else. An added benefit was the development of on-going friendships. Several tutors also reported greater insights about teaching and the value of discussion, as reflected in the following comments:
"The value of group discussion to share our understanding of the course, not only for the tutors but for myself" and "making arguments creates more interest and understanding".On the question of whether the initial training was helpful for the peer tutors, the majority reported that it had been helpful. Comments about the initial training were varied but generally included preparing them better in terms of expectations of their role, improving their confidence, anticipating problems to come and dealing better with them, as well as having useful strategies for the sessions. Comments included the following:
"It is good to get perspective that the scheme is trying to achieve and from the point of view that all people perceive things differently."There were a number of suggestions regarding how the scheme could be improved. Although most tutors seemed quite happy with the scheme, many recommended that it be run for a longer time throughout the semester and involve the actual course coordinators and tutors. Others suggested that there be more support material and extra instruction. Another suggestion was for the tutees to have an initial session of what was expected of them, because there was a perceived need from some tutees to be more committed. On what advice they would offer to future tutors, the majority talked about the need to be understanding and patient, to have good listening skills, and to be a friend and helper. A number also mentioned the need to be properly prepared for sessions, and not be afraid of making mistakes or knowing all the answers. It was also important to remember that tutoring is an interactive, shared experience. In the words of some of the tutors,
"It made me aware that teaching to stimulate thought would be a more effective way of preparing a student for an exam."
"Each tutee is different, sharing procedure differently. Don't think of teaching, it should be a sharing process."There was an interesting difference between the two semesters in connection with whether of not they would volunteer to be peer tutors again (see Table 3(vi)). In first semester there was a clear majority who said that they would (about 80%), whereas in the second semester it was a little more equivocal (40% said "yes" and 55% said "maybe"). The increase in the "maybe" category was probably because they were nearing the end of their university courses and were worried about being overloaded. However, most commented favourably about the experience, especially about the personal rewards involved:
"Keep an open dialogue with your tutee and enjoy the experience."
"Be patient, be willing to learn and see from the tutees' perspective. Don't just give answers, learn to prompt and let the student delve (sic) the answer. Be a good friend and give a kind understanding, listening ear."
"I find it challenging and motivating, and it gives me a sense of achievement. Tutoring also provides me with an opportunity to contribute something to the university community."There were also a number of additional comments made, many of which reinforced early comments of general support and enjoyment of the scheme and the rewarding nature of the experience for all concerned.
"I personally think that it is a really fruitful experience and felt really fulfilled. It is like doing something useful for someone."
"This scheme is a brilliant idea. It gives an easier environment for shy students to ask questions as their peer tutors are all students. Some of the shy students find it hard to approach their tutors."
"This pilot scheme is definitely very constructive and both tutors and tutees are able to gain from it."
Table 4(iii) reveals that the clear majority of the students thought that their study skills had improved because of the sessions (approx. 70%). Students reported a number of different areas of improvement in their comments including their ability to analyse questions, to understand better the expectations of staff, to understand better how to structure and argue their case, to be more organised in terms of their study, and to improve their ability to think critically. Several students also reported that the peer tutoring session made them prepare better for their mainstream tutorials as the following comments attest:
"It make me read up my lecture notes and practise the tutorial questions".Similarly, Table 4(iv) reveals that a clear majority of students felt that their knowledge of the subject had improved as a result of the sessions in both semesters. student comments included the following:
"It forced me to complete tutorial work prior to actual tutorial".
"I'm more aware in regard to picking important sections from study material. Much more organised."
"I have a better understanding and thus I can apply what I have learnt."Several students also commented on the value of discussing with others, as the following illustrate:
"Asking and speaking to somebody who has recently sat the exam enabled me to discover which parts of the course were relevant. I wish I had peer tutors for all of my subjects."
"I needed to become more involved in cross student discussion. Exchanging ideas clarifies knowledge".Similar results were obtained with the next question on whether they thought their confidence had improved as a result of the sessions. Table 4(v) reveals that around 70% in both semesters thought that this was the case. Students were more confident in their thinking, in their ability to participate in tutorials, and their preparedness for examinations.
"When I discuss with others, people may point out what I do not see, so it improves my knowledge of the subject".
"I was more confident to speak in tutors because I had a better understanding of the concepts"The most useful feature of the sessions for the students was the opportunity for discussion, to be able to clear their doubts, and have their questions and confusions answered with someone who was not threatening.
"I'm not scared when I attend tutorial classes, I participate actively."
"Before, my goal for final examination was a credit. Now, it has changed to a distinction."
"Having someone to be able to bounce ideas off."Another feature that was mentioned by many students was the working through of past examination papers and learning about the exam and how to tackle it. In both semesters, there were very few comments regarding features that were not very useful. In semester one a couple of students commented on the fact that there were not enough sessions and that was remedied in the second semester.
"Knowing that I can ask questions that I couldn't ask in tutorials."
Comments on how the scheme could be improved, in first semester predictably were largely about starting earlier and having more sessions. In second semester, however, the comments centred on having more peer tutors and the possibility of one to one situations. In both semesters ninety percent of the students said that they would participate in future schemes. There were several gratuitous comments, such as "Definitely" and "I do enjoy exchanging thoughts with others". The additional comments asked for in Question 11 mostly were fulsome thanks for the scheme and often sincere thanks to the particular tutor who they had found to be very helpful and kind.
"X has been very helpful and obliging. I am most appreciative of his time."
"Thanks very much for Y's help. She was very helpful and she showed me a great patience especially with my poor English. Thanks a lot." (sic)
"Good experience with other people especially in sharing of thought and different views". (sic)
For both tutors and tutees there was an increased awareness for a number of them of the value of discussing their views and ideas with their peers. They, therefore, appreciated more fully the value of the tutorial process, with many reporting a greater ability to be able to contribute to their mainstream tutorials. The quote utilised in the supplemental instruction literature (Gardiner, 1996) seems particularly apposite:
"Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand".
Cornwall, M. (1980). Students as teachers: Peer teaching in higher education. Amsterdam: COWO, University of Amsterdam.
Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching (Learning styles and preferences, pp. 185-192). Jossey Bass Publishers: San Francisco.
Entwistle, N. (1987). The teaching learning process. In J. Richardson et al. (eds.), Student learning research in Education and cognitive Psychology. Society for Research into Higher Education: UK.
Gardiner, R. (1996). Supplemental instruction (SI). Academic Staff Development Unit, Queensland University of Technology.
Hawkins, T. (1978). Personal checklist of tutoring skills. Student Learning Center, University of California/Berkeley.
Magin, D. J. & Churches, A. E. (1995). Peer tutoring in Engineering Design: A case study. Studies in Higher Education, 20, 73-85.
National Center for Supplemental Instruction, 1992. Supplemental instruction: review of research concerning the effectiveness of SI from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and other institutions from across the United States. Kansas City: Centre for Academic Development.
|Please cite as: Beasley, C. (1997). Students as teachers: The benefits of peer tutoring. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p21-30. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/beasley.html|