Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) in first year chemistry and statistics courses: insights and evaluations

Valda Miller, Elwyn Oldfield, Michael Bulmer


First level Science students are faced with a bewildering array of courses at university, many of them with densely structured, modular, and multi-streamed curricula. While such curricula are designed to give students the advantage of studying a large number of topics in separate modules within the one course structure, they also have the potential to alienate rather than engage students. This is especially so if students lack the ability to interpret confusing messages concerning learning requirements. Any lack of coherence between teaching, learning and assessment may be exacerbated if there is non-alignment between student learning and progressive assessment. If students lack an overarching perspective of the critical appraisal inherent in the discipline, they may be forced to adopt a surface learning approach, especially if they have done so in the past.

Students’ prior educational experiences are known to influence their current conceptions of learning (Marton and Saljo 1997). However, while students’ approaches to learning can be influenced by their perceptions of the teaching and learning environments (Biggs 1999b), assessment criteria (Laurillard 1997), or motivation and anxiety levels (Fransson 1977), their learning orientations may be positively re-directed. This can be achieved if they are encouraged to become personally involved with their own learning (Beaty, Gibbs and Morgan 1997); for example, by increasing students’ level of learning related activity with the coursework (Biggs 1999a).

To provide an active learning environment which can also support the alignment of learning objectives and assessment with student learning, peer assisted study sessions (PASS) have been introduced into the curricula of eleven first level courses within the Faculty of Biological and Chemical Sciences. The aim of this paper is to discuss features, or insights, that have been identified as contributing to the successful implementation of PASS in chemistry and statistics, and to evaluate the effect of PASS on student performance and subsequent recruitment into the discipline.

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