Defining peer advising and identifying key decisions

What is peer advising?

Given the broad range of content and activities that the term can accommodate --from social support to in-class tutoring to academic advising--  it’s no surprise that the literature does not agree on one definition of peer advising. CREATES operates with the following working definition:

“Peer advising is an educational process in which trained peers support other students in improving their collegiate learning experience.”

Whatever the primary goals or the type of activities included, CREATES identified four key sets of decisions which must be made when designing a peer advising plan:

  1. The content of the topics covered,
  2. The advisees’ experience,
  3. The advisors’ experience, and
  4. The framework of the plan, including organizational and structural features.

Expand the section below to read a brief literature review, which helped lead to the above definition and areas for key decisions.

Brief literature review

Scholars of teaching and learning mostly focus either on the subjects or the aims of peer advising.  For Hall & Jaugietis (2011), “peer advisors are a group of responsible and knowledgeable students from upper classes”. For others, e.g. Ender & Newton (2000), peer advisors are ‘paraprofessionals’, insofar as they are “selected and trained” in order to provide some sort of “educational service” to their peers. According to Marter (2016), the use of peers as “paraprofessionals to provide services to students in the education field” incorporates three distinct activities: peer advising, peer education, and peer mentoring. While the latter appears less frequently in the literature and refers to a ‘referral service’ approach, peer education (and to a lesser extent, peer advising) are more common and refer to a broad range of services provided by students to other students “from role modelling in social justice organization to teaching study skills within higher education to the prevention of drug use in high schools” (Marter, 2016).

Among the studies that focus on the objectives of peer advising, the large majority highlight its inner feature of “students helping students” (Diambra & Cole-Zakrezewski, 2002, p. 56), especially in the process of entering a new environment or experience. Thus, the main actions identified often relate to ‘helping’, ‘assisting’, ‘supporting’, ‘encouraging’, ‘facilitating’, while at the same time there is a very frequent association with ‘transition’ into collegiate life and the goal of educational ‘success’. By helping fellow students navigate the waters of academia, peer advisors are integral to an educational process whereby “students are intentionally connected with other students to support learning and success” (Koring & Campbell, 2005, p. 11). The intentionality of the student-to-student connection discloses the need for selecting and training ‘paraprofessionals’ who’ll be partly in charge of academic advising services to their peers. At the same time, the intentionality of the design of such services is deemed necessary as peer advisors are called upon to “assist in student adjustment, satisfaction, and persistence toward attainment of their educational goals” (Koring & Campbell, 2005, p. 11).

Additional goals include:

  • student autonomy,
  • (social) stability,
  • confidence,
  • integration (of outside activities),
  • critical thinking,
  • career advice, and
  • authentication of information by creating a safe space through shared experience, relatability and equality of access.

Thus, CREATES arrived at its working definition.

Does peer advising work?

Changes in student populations and institutional needs have prompted Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to re-examine traditional academic advising systems, which typically consisted of one-on-one relationships between students and faculty or staff members (Swisher, 2013). Turning to peers, especially through peer advising systems, has emerged as one of the most suitable measures to address new challenges within higher education. The participation of undergraduates in the education of their peers represents “a significant untapped resource that can facilitate learning” (Gosser et al., 2001, p. 3). In theory, peer advising is a great opportunity to support students during their studies to enhance reflection, to pool information, and to encourage and support students while conducting their study. But is peer advising actually effective? Do students really benefit from it? And if so, how?

Indeed, it is well documented that the use of peers can enforce the educational aims of an institution (Couchman, 2009; Darwin & Palmer, 2009; Hall & Jaugietis, 2011). Not surprisingly, the prevalence of peer advising has grown in recent years (Koring, 2005, p. 2). Both by design and spontaneously, studies show that peer advisors that provide support for academic success and interpersonal development (Chester et al., 2013; Couchman, 2009; Heirdsfield et al., 2008). Rosenthal & Shinebarger (2010) believe peer advising is meant to lessen “the gap between student needs and the type of mentoring they receive,” particularly when there is a lack of staff to meet the needs of students (p. 24). Simpson (2014) notes, peer advisors serve as a way for students to adjust successfully to college life.

Peer mentors can provide ongoing support, especially for first-year students entering a new environment or experience and encourage their personal and academic success. New students may often censor themselves towards academic staff when asked to talk about their ambitions and ideas. One reason is often that they feel unsure about what is realistic or meets expected standards. Conversations with peers can help students overcome such barriers and find the confidence to express themselves in more professional contexts. Therefore, peer-advising ideally supplements self-advising and faculty advising provided by staff. Peer advisors are especially helpful in the first year as students navigate the transition from high school to college, while faculty engagement is especially important in the junior and senior year (Koring & Campbell, 2005).

 

The Student Perspective: What are the reasons for peer advising?

In this video, students from four European universities describe in their own words the reasons they believe are important for implementing a peer advising plan. Rather than projecting one specific plan for peer advising, “The Student Perspective” videos present a diversity of experiences and are meant to spark discussion about what form of peer advising may be useful at your institution. 

 

How can my program implement an effective peer advising plan?

CREATES has developed four key sets of decisions that your program will need to consider before implementing (or to improve an existing) peer advising plan. These four make up the four main sections of this toolkit.

We invite you to explore the sets of key decisions in any order. We encourage you also to keep in mind that you’ll need to consider the particular goals of your peer advising plan, the contexts of your major program and university, as well as the characteristics of your student body.

Peer advising key decisions:

References

Chester, A., Burton, L., Xenos, S., Elgar, K. (2013). Peer mentoring: Supporting successful transition for first year undergraduate psychology students. Australian Journal of Psychology. 65. 30-37. 

Couchman, Judith. (2009). An Exploration of the ‘Lived Experience’ of One Cohort of Academic Peer Mentors at a Small Australian University. Australasian Journal of Peer Learning. 2(5), 87-110.

Darwin, A. & Palmer E. (2009) Mentoring circles in higher education, Higher Education Research & Development, 28(2), 125-136.

Diambra, Joel & Cole-Zakrzewski, Kylie. (2002). Peer Advising: Evaluating Effectiveness. NACADA Journal. 22, 56-64. 

Ender, S.C., & Newton, F.B. (2000). Students helping students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Gosser, D. K., Cracolice, M. S., Kampmeier, J. A., Roth, V., Strozak, V. S., & VarmaNelson, P. (2001). Peer-Led Team Learning: A Guidebook (Prentice H.). Upper Saddle River, NJ. 

Hall R. & Jaugietis, Z. (2011). Peer mentoring through evaluation. Innovative Higher Education, 36(1), 41-52. 

Heirdsfield, A.M., Walker, S.,Walsh, K. & Wilss, L. (2008) Peer mentoring for first‐year teacher education students: the mentors’ experience, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16(2), 109-124.

Koring, H., & Campbell, S. (2005). Peer advising: intentional connections to support student learning. (NACADA Monograph No. 13). Manhattan, KS: National Academic advising Association.

Marter, A. (2016) Peer Advising 101: A Training Workshop For Peer Advisors In Study Abroad. Capstone Collection. 2852. https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/capstones/2852

Rosenthal, K. I., & Shinebarger, S. H. (2010). Peer mentors: Helping bridge the advising gap. About Campus, 15(1), 24–27.

Simpson, L. (2014). University Peer Advisors Pursuing Careers in Educational Advising: A Phenomenological Study Examining the Influence of Lived-Experiences on Vocational Purpose. Dissertation. Liberty University. 

Swisher, E. (2013). Practical Considerations in Developing Peer Advising Programs. The Mentor: Innovative Scholarship on Academic Advising15.

Additional Recommended Reading

Byrom, N. and Guliver, E. (2014). “Peer Support For Student Mental Health”. Student Minds. Oxford, UK. Available: https://www.studentminds.org.uk/uploads/3/7/8/4/3784584/peer_support_for_student_mental_health.pdf

Koring, H., & Zahorik, D. T. (Eds.). (2013). Peer Advising and Mentoring: A Guide for Advising Practitioners. NACADA Monograph Series, 1-184.

Leidenfrost B., Strassnig, B., Schabmann, A., Carbon, C. C., & Spiel, C. (2011). Peer mentoring styles and their contribution to academic success among mentees: A person-oriented study in higher education. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 19(3), 347-365.

Melander, E. R. (2005). Advising as educating: A framework for organizing advising systems. NACADA Journal25(2), 84-91.

Wunsch, M.A. (1994) Mentoring Revisited: Making an Impact on Individuals and Institutions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.