We started with only 6 subjects, and are now partnering with over 50 academics and subjects each session. U:PASS (UTS Peer Assisted Study Success) is a program where student facilitators are recruited, trained, mentored and supported to run classes in ‘hard to pass’ first and second year subjects, in all faculties except TDI. U:PASS leaders are high achieving in the subjects they facilitate in, but more importantly, they are chosen carefully for their relatability to other students, their empathy and their communication and interpersonal skills. Recruitment is super competitive, with only one in every 3 students who apply being successful.
U:PASS leaders are in the unique position of being only one step above in their learning and understanding of the first year subjects, which allows them to connect well with the struggles, but as learning designers, they are also pushed to deliver the best learning experience for the students in their classes. Hence, they are wonderful resources for academics to consult. When the students as partners First and Further Year Forum was held in early May this year, four U:PASS leaders were brought into the forum to demonstrate and share their skills and the various programs they were involved in.
After the FFYE, we spoke to 3 current U:PASS leaders about their experience from U:PASS and the forum, from a leader who is in her first semester of U:PASS, to a leader who has racked up an impressive 4 semesters of experience in a range of science subjects.
Katarina Gomola is a final year Medical Science student, and has been leading in U:PASS classes since Spring 2017. She has led classes in Biocomplexity, Human Anatomy and Physiology and Cell Biology and Genetics, all big first year core subjects for science students. In summer 2017-2018, she and two other leaders collaborated with Dr Alexandra Thomson, to bring their rich knowledge of the challenges of Biocomplexity as well as their knowledge of facilitating learning together. They co-redesigned the curriculum to fit a workshop style, because the subject had been timetabled as one long day a week. Kat really enjoyed the experience and said:
“It was such an awesome opportunity to share our experiences and bounce ideas off each other. We had all worked with different students and so could each bring different perspectives to the table to ensure all kinds of students could have the chance to really engage and enjoy the subject.”
Helena Tran is a second year business and engineering student who started leading in U:PASS this year in Mathematical Modelling 1, the first maths subject for engineering students. She wore two hats at the forum, because as well as being a U:PASS leader she was one of 6 international students under the guidance of Joli Price and assistant former U:PASS leader Jason Do appointed to support FEIT international students. She said of the forum:
“It was a great experience to reflect on the potential benefits and barriers of considering students as collaborators and partners since it showed us that it can be highly beneficial for students to do so. Also, from the projects which were presented, one of them mentioned issues students encounter the most and it was interesting to realise that these issues are actually what we are working on with the Student Ambassadors team. I also really enjoyed meeting the academics/university staff on my table, hearing about their participation in this topic and sharing our project.”
Tijana Sharp is a second year Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science student. She came along to the forum to facilitate the discussion on the table and spoke of her experience:
“I loved the opportunity to reach out of my comfort zone and engage with academics and professionals in the educative world, somewhere where I can see myself venturing further into in the future. It was awesome to also see exactly what my role is as a U:PASS leader in terms of Students as Partners.”
Tijana’s predecessor Clementine Grandou, who is now completing Honours, also collaborated last year with the subject coordinator for Structural Anatomy Lee Wallace, looking at students who attended U:PASS’s retention rates of subject information from Structural Anatomy through to the next subject Functional Anatomy.
Involving students as partners
When asked about what they’d do to get academics involving students as partners, all three students said that academics should consult students in informal meetings or focus groups. Former U:PASS leader and now FEIT Student Engagement Officer Jason Do said “Overcoming the tutor-student barrier can open up many opportunities and perspectives for both parties and this can be facilitated by creating an informal and casual setting that allows partners to learn, share ideas and collaborate on the same level. I also suggest food, food brings people together!”
If any academics are interested in working with the U:PASS leaders who are at the juncture of teaching and learning as both staff and students, they should contact the U:PASS program on email@example.com.
Feature image by Mimi Thian.