In 2019 Law School academics were researching student wellbeing and as part of this carried out interviews and focus groups with law and business students. They told us that distance learning can sometimes be an isolating and lonely experience – something that students have fed back to us before. However, as part of that research we were asked ‘why does the Law School not provide a peer mentoring scheme?’. We thought this was a great question and when we could not come up with a good answer, we decided to implement a pilot peer mentoring scheme. We introduced the scheme in February 2020 on the Introduction to Law module (W101) and focused on students new to the OU and the study of law. Our key aim was to enable students to form peer support groups which would continue as self-help study groups as the students progressed in their studies.
We recruited ten volunteer student mentors who had completed W101 within the last two years. As this was a pilot project, the scheme was offered in two geographical areas, the East of England and Yorkshire. These areas have centres of high population alongside rural, isolated areas and provided a variety of different settings within which to trial the scheme. We offered a place on the scheme to all students in those two areas starting W101 in February 2020 and 42 student mentees were part of the project.
From the start we decided that the best people to design the peer mentoring scheme were the student mentors, as they had experienced studying law and distance learning and knew what would be most helpful and supportive for students. We therefore met as a team with the mentors in January 2020, before the module started, for a full day. Following training in the morning, we worked alongside the mentors in the afternoon to design the peer mentoring scheme and co-create the content. The mentors designed a project which involved them mentoring a small group of students using a forum. They offered three online group sessions to their student mentees and decided the most appropriate time to hold those sessions (at module start, before the first assignment and once students had received their first tutor feedback). The mentors then split into small groups and worked together to design the content of the three sessions and a schedule of messages they could post on their forum.
Following the face-to-face event, the mentors continued to work together and produced a common set of final materials, both for online sessions and forum messages. The mentors were supported by an experienced law tutor who offered advice and guidance where needed, but the design and final version of the materials was decided by the students themselves, drawing upon their collective experiences and knowledge as law students.
The students continued to work together to support each other once the mentoring project started in February, sharing ideas across their own mentoring forum with the assistance of the tutor. As one mentor explained, ‘the resources and facilitation by the program team helped guide the process, but the content was very much mentee driven. I feel this is important given our relative experiences.’
The peer mentoring scheme is still ongoing; the three online sessions have taken place and students are being encouraged to form self-help groups to support each other going forward. We are evaluating the pilot through statistical analysis and by conducting research interviews and focus groups with both mentors and mentees.
Informal feedback from all students involved in the project has been very positive, for example one mentor told us that ‘we all feel passionately about this project – it would have been wonderful if the mentoring project had been in place when we had started W101!’ The mentors enjoyed the co-creation of the project; the opportunity to explain the concerns and challenges they faced as they started studying and to use this in the design and production of the materials. One mentor felt that ‘the co-creation sessions were highly constructive, and it was enjoyable to engage with other students. This was one of the most important features of the day in my experience.’ The relevance and quality of what they produced was exceptional. As a project team we knew that our students were much better placed to understand the anxieties of new students and to support them, and our confidence in our mentor students was not misplaced. This has been a rewarding project to be involved in and the team have learnt so much from the mentors about studying law at the OU.
Liz Hardie, Carol Edwards and Lorraine Gregory
Law Level One Peer Mentoring Project team
At home / online
At home / online