“We Were Told We’re Not Teachers … It Gets Difficult to Draw the Line”: Negotiating Roles in Peer-Assisted Study Sessions

May. 10, 2014

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 22, No. 2, 146–161, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors explore how relationships between peer facilitators and students in a Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) program impacted on education students as independent learners.

The participants were sixteen students who enrolled a Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), a peer learning program, at one New Zealand university. All participants had attended at least one PASS session: four participants had attended between one and four sessions, and 12 described themselves as having attended all sessions, or possibly missing one or two. Furthermore, seven PASS facilitators participated in this program.
Data were collected through interviews and questionnaires.


The findings reveal that PASS participants discussed experiences of the program, revealing tensions between what students and facilitators felt should happen in PASS, and how they acted differently.
Peer facilitators’ roles were influenced by the ways students in their groups participated during PASS sessions. Whilst students celebrated the near-peer relationship of the PASS facilitator, contradictory data showed how difficult it was for facilitators to maintain facilitation in the face of students’ pressure for instructional teaching whenever assignment due dates loomed. Facilitators’ perceptions of students’ self-efficacy seemed to reinforce students’ expectations of instructional teaching. Facilitators noticed that students with low levels of self-efficacy seemed more likely to demand instructional teaching responses. In turn, near-peer relationships were affected, disrupting social congruence and re-establishing hierarchical relationships between facilitators and students. Some students seemed to manipulate cognitive congruence as a short cut to knowledge acquisition, creating tensions for facilitators to negotiate.

Furthermore, the majority of their peer facilitators were themselves participating in pre-service teacher education. The authors argue that recruiting PASS facilitators engaged in pre-service teacher education added another layer of complexity to the program’s implementation. Facilitators encountered challenges identifying and maintaining the fine line between co-constructing or instructing peers in content knowledge. Hence, the authors propose that peer-facilitators’ intersecting roles of facilitator and trainee teacher are important to consider.


The authors conclude that they recognize the importance of training that focuses on facilitating student-centered sessions, which address study skills and deepen understanding of course material. Facilitators could be encouraged to work collegially in generating a range of activities that promote active learning for PASS participants, ideally avoiding temptation to directly teach course content. Sustaining collaboration between PASS facilitators may provide them with greater resources to draw on, and effectively counter students’ strategic-oriented expectations for instruction.
The authors also recommend to separate PASS training designed for pre-service teachers to explore in more depth their understandings of facilitation, teaching, instruction, and co-construction of learning. Ideally, a deeper understanding of how to facilitate, as well as negotiate any ensuing tensions, will help pre-service teachers be effective PASS facilitators and supplement their pedagogical repertoires.

Updated: Oct. 09, 2016