Last changed 14 Oct 2010 ............... Length about 3,000 words (24,000 bytes).
(Document started on 14 Sep 2003.) This is a WWW document maintained by Steve Draper, installed at You may copy it. How to refer to it.

  (Short URL for this page:

Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [resources] [this page]
PAL pages: [PAL in general] [PAL in my department]

PAL in the Psychology Department

(written by Steve Draper)

This is a general home page for PAL (Peer Assisted Learning) in the psychology department: designed equally for students, facilitators, staff, and interested outsiders. (My notes on the general idea of PAL with links, papers etc. are elsewhere. Pointers to PAL elsewhere in Glasgow University are also on a separate page.)

For information on PAL being currently offered to levels 1, 2, and 3 psychology classes see the portal.

PAL related pages

What is the PAL scheme?

Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) is the name we'll use for a scheme for organising weekly group meetings for students on a given course, attended voluntarily but officially recommended by the department, and led not by a staff member but by a "facilitator" who is a student who has done the course previously. The content discussed may be anything that seems relevant and important to the groups, from administrative details through deeper implications of the course material to study skills and any aspect of how to be a successful student.

Two insights underlie the scheme. The first is that students know what it was like to do a course, and staff do not: they have something to pass on to students in following years that cannot be obtained anywhere else. The second is that peer interaction benefits learning (conceptual development) not only because fellow students are 100 times more available than staff, but because the explainer benefits even more than the listener: this is because to explain something, you have to get it really clear in your own head, and nearly always improve your own understanding in the process.

Or perhaps you prefer this view:
"The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring."
[From the Introduction in (Illich; 1970):
Illich,Ivan D. (1970) Deschooling Society (Calder & Boyars: London)]

For a brief discussion of contrasting schemes see here, and particularly peer mentoring.

What's in it for the target (client) students?

A comfortable atmosphere in which they can pick up some help with the course and enjoy it more. In the short term, it's a place they can get questions answered (or at least find out where to find out the answers). In the medium term, they'll probably end up little by little learning more, doing better, and enjoying the course more. In the longer term, we hope they will acquire metacognitive skills for monitoring and managing their own learning, and for organising their own peer learning. (More detail.) In some other schemes, PAL has been targeted at courses with high failure rates, and has improved the pass rate.

If you want to attend PAL sessions, see the pages for the class (level) you are in: the links were given near the top of this page.

Subject to exceeding maximum group sizes, we expect that any student may attend any group as often or as seldom as they wish. We recommend attending once per week. If you have a particular problem, go to a group and ask them to help with it. However in general, you probably won't be able to predict in advance what it is you'll get out of attending, and we believe the best thing is to go regularly for a while and then review whether it has been worthwhile for you. Not to give it a try is like refusing to speak to someone unless they promise in advance to be your friend; not to take a waterproof until after it has started raining; only to ask for a vaccination after you have caught the disease.

What's in it for the (student) facilitators?

If you want to be a facilitator, contact the PAL coordinators: Judith Stevenson, for levels 1 and 2; Steve Draper for levels 3 and 4.

What's in it for the department?

PAL can promote a number of aspects of learning and teaching which the department would like to enhance (e.g. deep learning, and improving study skills), but one of the most important to a department with very large classes is improving how at home students feel by getting to know other students and by feeling they can get help from a range of people and places. Helpful interaction between different years is another thing the department is keen to see improve. In many other schemes, PAL has been targeted at courses with high failure rates, and has often improved the pass rate.

The department also hopes this will prove a useful additional channel for feedback from students to the department on how the courses are going: course teams will be monitoring the public versions of what gets discussed in the groups in order to see what seems to be going well, and what is causing students problems.

What are the potential educational advantages theoretically?

For a longer discussion, see this page, but a short (if jargon-ridden) list might be:

Current confidentiality policy

Attendance at PAL sessons is entirely voluntary, and information on who attends is not normally available to staff. Attendance records are however kept by the PAL coordinators to be used in these ways:

The topics and content of what is discussed at each group (but not the identities of the students concerned) will be reported by the facilitators and shared publicly. This is so that everyone knows the topics that interest students that week, and so other groups can also discuss them if they wish.

The major exception to this is if any participant is abusive of others in any way: facilitators are required to report this, and the identity of the alleged offender, immediately.

In contrast to confidentiality about (client) students attending PAL, we are considering publishing facilitator names e.g. in case some students select the groups they attend on the basis of facilitators they know. This issue will be negotiated with facilitators.

If you have a problem with any aspect of this policy please raise it with us (Judith Stevenson, Steve Draper). We are entirely open to changing the policy if that would better serve the aims of the PAL scheme and the students it serves.

Group atmosphere / rules / contract

How the PAL groups feel to participants is very important to how well they function, and how enjoyable they are. Each group will have to decide on its own exact rules of conduct, and probably these will change quite often during the year. Some may even formalise these into an explicit contract.

Here however are some basic expectations to serve as a starting point for these agreements.

Plans for running PAL sessions

General ideas about the agenda for each PAL session is discussed here, and a generic agenda outlined.

Many detailed ideas (for facilitators) about how to plan and run plan PAL sessions are here.

Newer general reflections on what makes for productive sessions are here.

Training facilitators

The set of documents used as handouts in the training session for Psychology PAL facilitators on 25 Sept 2003 are available as a combined pdf file. They are not meant to make sense by themselves to others. They include:


PAL coordinator: The people coordinating the day to day and week to week running of the scheme currently are Judith Stevenson, and Steve Draper.

PAL promoter: The academic promoting the adoption of PAL in psychology is Steve Draper.

History / origins of the scheme

Getting pupils to teach each other goes back at least to Andrew Bell in the eighteenth century. There are numerous ways students have been and are organised to help each other. The literature on "peer tutoring" and "peer assisted learning" in our university library (level 4, Education E29.p3) describes some of these.

Our scheme derives more directly from an approach developed in the USA under the name of Supplemental Instruction in 1973, and now offered at about 60% of (research-oriented) US universities. It was introduced into the UK at Kingston University in 1990 in modified form as PAL. (One way to find other UK PAL sites is through the PAL network.) In 2002-3, the Student Network introduced it to Glasgow University for a course in Computing Science, supported by a grant from the Chancellor's fund. In 2003-4 the psychology department decided to introduce it on a trial basis.

The scheme in psychology is not exactly the same, nor undertaken with exactly the same set of priorities and aims, even as the scheme in computing science, let alone those in other universities. Furthermore the name "peer assisted learning" is used in the literature for a large range of different activities, some quite different from this scheme. A more exact name for our scheme might be "Mentor-assisted peer interaction and reflection", but this is less catchy, doesn't acknowledge its connection with similar schemes, is harder to understand, and so perhaps for most people is less clear.

Email and PAL facilitators

There's a set of special email aliases for the groups of PAL facilitators. This allows an easy way for me, or them, to email the whole group at once without personally having each person's email. It is also used for posting a report of each PAL meeting, both to inform each other, and to accumulate in an archive of all email posts: this becomes a useful cumulative record, which facilitators as well as I can consult.

  • Level 1 and Level 2: email to facilitators serving these years:
  • Level 3: email to facilitators serving this year:
  • Level 4: email to facilitators serving this year:

    To join the relevant list if you have not already been added, either email me personally or go to the relevant list web page and fill in the subscription request there.

  • List of email lists
  • Example PAL email list page

    For instructions on reading the email archives, subscribing, managing your password etc. see here.

    List of web links

    Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [resources] [this page]
    [Top of this page]