Pilot Peer Mentorship Program: Bringing Curricular Peer Mentoring to Memorial University

Lay Summary 

This project is still in its initial stages. Below is a summary of the proposed project:

The university classroom is changing. Numbers – institutional budgets, faculty salaries, tuition costs – soar. As class sizes continue to grow, administrative budgets continue to shrink, and professors continue to balance teaching with research and publication, universities need a solution to these competing demands that is cost-effective for the institution and academically effective for students and faculty. This research investigates peer mentoring as that solution.

Peer mentors are not tutors, teaching assistants or professors; they are students who have excelled in a specific undergraduate course and served as a facilitator of active and collaborative learning for other students going through that course. Their main goal is to lead their peers to a deeper understanding and application of course content, through peer-led discussion and creative activities. Mentors also provide constructive feedback and encouragement to their fellow learners by calling upon the wisdom they gained from their own challenges and successes as previous learners in the course. Furthermore, they are a vital link between the professor and the student, assisting both in meeting their objectives. Finally, peer mentors benefit from their own practice by reaching deeper levels of understanding of the course content while shaping academic, leadership and community-building skills.

Peer mentoring has the potential to decrease instructor workload, while increasing undergraduate student success, because it aids students in their learning process, improves student engagement and builds stronger learning communities. These attributes of peer mentoring are vehicles through which students become successful, and are commonly understood as valuable to undergraduate learning.

As post-secondary institutions continue to respond to contemporary concerns about youth education, training for future employment and the like, it is important that commitment to quality education become supported at all levels of the education-provision spectrum.

My goal is to determine what practices are indicative of good peer mentoring, and develop a program structure, materials and activities that support peer mentoring across a variety of disciplines. I will study a successful model of co-curricular peer mentoring, developed in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary by Dr. Tania Smith, to identify what made it successful and how those principles can be applied in a pilot peer mentoring program at Memorial University.

I will ask: (i) What are good peer mentoring practices? (ii) How does peer mentoring affect students, educators and administrators? (iii) How can the principles of peer mentoring be adapted to various post-secondary learning environments, including but not limited to: (a) undergraduate courses within various faculties, departments, or programs; (b) undergraduate courses with different levels of student enrolment; (c) undergraduate courses offered in different years of an undergraduate degree; and (d) undergraduate courses taught by different educators and/or education teams?

This will be a mixed-methods study using a comparative method of analysis. I will study my pilot project from all angles: from program development through delivery and participation. By conducting a survey with participants in this pilot project, I will quantify the host instructor and student attitudes to the value of peer mentoring in a post-secondary institution. I will subsequently acquire a more nuanced analysis through a post-survey interview with the host instructor of the pilot program and a sample of the students enrolled in it. From my results, I will produce a program guide for the establishment of peer mentoring in arts-based undergraduate courses and write a scholarly paper that contributes to higher education discourse.

This research will address the challenge implicit in undergraduate class sizes continuing to grow and educators continuing to have too heavy a demand on their time. Peer mentoring is one strategy that may ensure student and instructor success. Innovative program delivery that retains the integrity of higher education and meets the needs of students, faculty and institution is essential to the academy. My research will show whether peer mentorship has the power to do this and, if it does, how it can be best programmed, facilitated and adapted across post-secondary disciplines.

St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Undergraduate Students
Industry Sectors 
Scientific Research and Development Services
Start date 
1 Jan 2012
End date 
31 Dec 2016