Reflections of a PAL

The University is progressing the roll out of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) across programmes.  It’s already up and running in a few areas, notably supporting the Buxton and Chesterfield based nursing programmes.

Psychology programmes have also adopted it this year, with Year One students being supported around induction by Year Two students and it’s now arrived in the Foundation year.

So what is PAL?  It’s a voluntary scheme, where students help to support fellow students around specific topics, working in partnership with the academic staff.  It does not replace formal teaching or the various support services of the University, such as the Study Skills team based in the library.  Rather it’s bringing in student experience to assist and signpost those services.  It is not one to one peer mentoring , the PAL lead sessions are group based.

I undertook the PAL training mainly with the expectation of using it to support Foundation students next year when I am in Year One. However in discussion with my peer students and with the module leads, Emma Sharpe and Simon Sherwood, we identified that a session on essay writing might be helpful. And so the study group was born.

It worked really well. The session was based around a short pre-recorded presentation by Emma on essay writing in psychology, which we then discussed and identified any key areas that needed further help.  This included me signposting some of the course materials that also could help and collecting feedback on areas that people wished to cover in a seminar scheduled for the week after with Simon. That feedback has been shared with Simon to help structure that session based on the student needs.

For me this was a great example of academics and students working together. As a student you cannot book rooms, so Simon arranged that, as well as explaining the week before how the equipment worked to present the video. Emma helped to ensure that I wasn’t seen as the ‘lecturer’ by providing the pre-recorded presentation, as it is not the role of the PAL to replace academic teaching.  It’s allowed the students to help Simon provide a tailored seminar on the keys areas which people need support on.

I think that is a key part of where PAL can help – it’s very much the PAL working with both students and academics to help each other to maximise learning opportunities.  Research has shown that schemes such as PAL can bring a lot of benefit to students and it’s great that Derby is now adopting this.

As the scheme is rolled out you will have opportunities to volunteer to be a PAL and help to shape the community which is starting to form around the scheme.

If you would like more information about PAL, including the training that is available, please take a look at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching webpages or email

Author: Chris Winson (BSc Psychology with Foundation)