P334: Building a learning community in chemistry through peer support
Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) was introduced to the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds, UK, as a successor to the pastorally-focused peer mentoring. The benefits to the school have been multi-faceted. The transition to PAL has meant that first year students have had the benefit of both pastoral support from their older peers, in terms of orientation at university, and integration into the life of the school. However, PAL has gone beyond supporting induction to provide students with guidance on all aspects of university study, such as making the most of lectures, tackling coursework, making module choices for future years and seeing the connections between the various aspects of the syllabus. Of equal importance are the benefits for the students who act as mentors. They develop a wide range of skills, such as communication, organization, and leadership. They also visibly grow in confidence during their time as a mentor. Revisiting first year material also helps them to understand their own course material more deeply. Finally, the school and faculty benefit from a much greater sense of community between year groups within the school, and between students and faculty, as they discuss the outcomes of the PAL sessions, allowing faculty to receive relevant and real-time feedback on their course as it progresses. Models for extending PAL to students beyond year one have also been explored and implemented in some areas, leading to better engagement and an increased sense of belonging for the students.