Peer Mentors in Courses

Telemachus and Mentor (public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

Telemachus and Mentor (public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

I wrote the message below in response to a Summer 2008 listserv request for information on courses for peer tutors of writing who are assigned to particular courses.

Here, I briefly explain the model of “curricular peer mentoring” and how it is practiced in the program that I developed at the university of Calgary.

If your peer tutors are mobile & willing to go where the students are, and if some writing course instructors are willing to integrate a peer tutor into the writing course they are taking, I would suggest taking a look at the “curricular peer mentoring” model at our website (below) at the Faculty of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary (Canada), a large urban doctoral/research institution.

This model is based on the peer tutors’ concurrent service and learning– in other words it’s a “service-learning” course in which the service is a practicum of 1-3hours a week as a peer mentor to students in a course. Peer mentors enroll in a course in which they receive course credit and the support of a cohort of peer mentors, and a mentoring instructor, and discuss readings in peer mentoring & leadership in higher learning. They collaborate with the instructor of the course in which they tutor in order to figure out how they can fit within the teaching philosophy and plans of that instructor.

A peer tutor in a writing course would spend time with the students they are mentoring during at least one class/week, and occasionally present or lead discussions in order to build trust and to bring a benefit to all students in the class, not just the ones who seek them out after class. Building a social connection of respect and sharing their learning experiences welcomes students to make appointments for extracurricular tutoring/study with the mentor/tutor.

Ideally the peer mentors/tutors also receive an honorarium that balances the cost of their tuition once they have completed the term of service & learning, and ideally so do the “host instructors,” but we have not had the money to afford this on top of the cost of the peer mentoring course, and our program works fine based on the social and educational incentives.

This model is good for educating undergraduates to engage in various kinds of academic learning support & engagement in a variety of courses, not just for writing and speaking. In fact, our business school is currently considering this model for peer mentoring in an accounting course where there are intensive group projects for off campus clients. Naturally as a Business faculty they are interested in the way that business students would develop leadership skills in their senior-level peer leadership course. We also have a similar program in Nursing at our university.

The model has been successful for 3 years, and I am presently leading a project generously funded by our Student’s Union to support & develop peer mentoring across the university.

Course and program front page
http://www.ucalgary.ca/~smit/PeerMentoring/index.htm

Here is our rationale page with a visual model and benefits
http://www.ucalgary.ca/~smit/PeerMentoring/Rationale.htm

Our course website
http://www.ucalgary.ca/~smit/PeerMentoring/Course/index.htm

An article I wrote about the pilot year of the program (fall 2005), now published in Innovative Higher Education, fall 08 http://www.uga.edu/ihe/ihe.html.

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