Structure/Framework

Introduction to Structure/Framework

Many advocate for the introduction of formal peer-run programmes in higher education institutions (HEIs) (Ender & Newton, 2000, p. 2). Yet the task of planning a new program from scratch or even reforming an existing program can seem monumental. In this section of the toolkit, CREATES addresses key decisions related to the structure and framework of implementing peer advising, including the following:

  • Which aspects of the program will be formally structured and which informal or unstructured?
  • How will you plan for the number of peer advisors and the size of the groups they advise?
  • How involved will the staff be in the implementation of peer advising?

Differences in visions, missions, needs, resources and objectives of HEIs, call for specific configurations of peer education in every single institution. The following section is meant to help you start thinking through the way you will structure your peer advising program.

Formal to informal environment (continuum)

CREATES recognizes that ‘students helping students’ happens informally and even spontaneously at institutions and in programs across Europe. Yet we are convinced that even if many of the ways that peer advisors support and help other students remains unstructured, implementing a peer advising plan sends a powerful signal to students that the institution or program wants to support them academically and personally and that not all learning and development will happen in the classroom.

CREATES thus conceives of peer advising programs as falling on a continuum of formal to informal. The most informal kind of peer advising is that which happens entirely outside of a peer advising plan structured by the program or institution. The most formal plan would structure all aspects of selecting and training peer advisors, matching advisees and advisors, setting the dates, length, and topics discussed at peer advising sessions. In reality, each program will need to decide the elements that they will attempt to structure and those they will encourage to be flexible.

 

Table 1: Strengths and Challenges of Formal and Informal Peer Advising Plans

Strengths Challenges
Formal Program has more control over the content and other aspects of the sessions (such as selecting peer advisors, meeting, locations, number of meetings, etc.) 
  • Socializes both peer advisors and advisees into more formal settings/conversations 
  • Peer advisors can be selected, trained and may experience many positive outcomes from the experience
  • Peer advisors or other students may still contribute to the plan, but more formally, in a leadership capacity. 
  • Institution has a better grasps of the information that is being shared by peer mentors and mentees
  • May not be as comfortable for advisees, they may not open up as much to their peers 

 

Strengths Challenges
Informal Peer mentoring or advising happens informally between students. In the most informal settings, perhaps there is little or no structure, and students simply meet and discuss in common rooms or residence halls.  
  • Advisees (and peer advisors) may feel more comfortable 
  • Flexibility in time and location of meetings, e.g. evenings and weekends, on or off campus, etc. 
  • Some students may feel excluded/alienated if peer advising simply turns into ‘friends talking’ 
  • Fewer opportunities to help shape the community culture
  • Faculty has less detailed information on the content that is shared between peer mentors and mentees       

 

The Student Perspective on Environment

Video: Formal or Informal? How does the setting affect peer advising?

In this video, students from four European universities consider how a more formal or more informal setting may affect the experience of peer advising. Rather than projecting one specific plan for peer advising, “The Student Perspective” videos describe a diversity of experiences and are meant to spark discussion about what form of peer advising may be useful at your institution.

 

Figure: Slide of recommendations produced by the peer-advising student team at the CREATES Advising Think Tank held in April 2019.

This slide presents recommendations for peer advising programs as suggested by the student participants of the 2019 CREATES Think Tank.

 

Material

Excerpt from the UCF Peer Advising Q&A  

How to make peer advising more attractive and more accessible? How to encourage students to seek peer advising?

...On the one hand, there is a need for more structured meetings, but at the same time more spontaneous. For instance, there should be an opportunity to arrange meetings off campus, in a more relaxed setting. On the other hand, this balance is very difficult to be achieved and maintained over time. One of the persistent problems with peer advising is also the lack of a group feeling. Since it usually takes place in a one-to-one environment, students might feel isolated and less capable to cope with studying than their peers, simply because they are not aware of the fact that most of the students need advising and use it throughout their studies. This could be solved by introducing additional activities that would take place in a group, e.g. Stammtisch meetings in the Common Room. Moreover, this type of events could be open for prospective peer advisors too, as it can help them learn more and be better prepared for their role.

In general, it is recommended to offer a variety of possibilities of peer-advising to address different needs of students. These can in summary be that students are assigned to a peer advisor but can also change it, that peer advisors offer activities in groups as well as the possibility of one-by-one meetings, that peer-advisors act alone or in a group with other peer advisors.

 

Questions

  • How formal or informal is the peer advising/mentoring program at your institution?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of that level of formality?
  • How might one assess a need for more formal or more informal peer advising or mentoring at your institution/program?

Size of groups, coordinator, and number of advisors

Based on the objectives of your program as well as practical considerations such as the allotted budget and whether your peer advisors will volunteer or be paid, you’ll need to make decisions about the size of your peer advising groups and the number of peer advisors. Some possibilities to consider:

  • For the size of the groups you would like to have:
    • One-on-one advising can be very personal, but perhaps too large of a workload unless you have many peer advisors.
    • Smaller groups (3-6) are still personal while allowing you to hire/train fewer advisors, especially if advisors will meet separately with two small groups.
    • Larger groups (7-10) may seem efficient, but may also be too much for advisors/mentors to handle.

 

  • For a supervisor or coordinator:
    • Having a staff supervisor or coordinator would help ensure that the program’s objectives are effectively relayed to the peer advisors.
    • A student coordinator or assistant, on the other hand, may be able to provide insight as to how students are actually experiencing the peer advising plan.
    • Whether student or staff, a coordinator can act as a contact person for student advisees who may have questions or feedback about their experience.

 

  • For the number of peer advisors per group:
    • One per group gives the peer advisors a lot of control over the session.
    • Two peer advisors per group allows for flexibility, and may make larger groups possible.

For each of the above decisions, consider how it will affect the students' experiences --as well as how it may affect diverse groups of students differently.

 

Video: The Student Perspective on Group Size for Peer Advising

In this video, students from Leuphana University of Lüneburg consider the best group size for peer advising. Rather than projecting one specific plan for peer advising, “The Student Perspective” videos describe a diversity of experiences and are meant to spark discussion about what form of peer advising may be useful at your institution.

 

Once you’ve decided on the size of groups, number of advisors, and who will supervise, you’ll need to consider how students or groups of students will be matched with a peer advisor. Please see the section on Peer Advisee Experience in this toolkit for ideas about how being assigned or choosing a peer advisor may affect students’ experiences. Some options include:

  • Matching advisors with advisees randomly
  • Matching advisors with groups based on schedule/availability
  • Matching based on interests
  • Allowing students to choose or change their peer advisor

 

Material

  • Sample Peer Advising Pamphlet from KCL English Department which includes peer advising by request and information about contacting the peer advising coordinator
  • Sample Peer Advising Scheduling Form from Leuphana in which students were formed into peer advising groups based on their schedule/availability

 

Questions

  • How many peer advisors do you have? What are the challenges and benefits of having that number of advisors?
  • How many students are in each peer advising group? What are the challenges and benefits of that group size?
  • How are peers organized into groups or matched with peer mentors/advisors in your program/institution?

Amount of faculty or staff involvement

In addition to the above organizational considerations, each peer advising plan should carefully consider the extent of faculty or staff involvement.

At the very least, you’ll consider how you’ll select peer advisors. Some potential decisions to make about selecting peer advisors are:

  • Publicly listing the job description
  • Approaching students individually to be advisors or asking for recommendations from staff
  • Allowing current peer advisors to recommend or to assist in selecting the next cohort of peer advisors

After selecting the peer advisors, you’ll need to decide to what extent staff will be involved in training the new peer advisors. For more information on training, please see the Peer Advisor Experience section of this toolkit.

The staff may also want to set the timeline for the development (or reforming) of a program. Table 2 is adapted from Collier’s (2015) recommended timeline for a new peer mentoring program. Some items may not be necessary for some programs (a small program with other orientations may not need a peer advisee only orientation event), and others could probably be conducted later than the recommended timeline, but this may prove as a useful checklist.

Table 2: Suggested timeline for peer advising program implementation [adapted from Collier (2015, p. 110)]

Time Activity
One year before start of program -Identify the needs and goals of a peer advising program

-Formulate a budget and secure the funding

9 months before start -Establish location of program

-Hire key staff (or confirm commitment of current staff faculty)

-Assemble content for program

-Decide on mode of peer advising (online, in person, group or one-on-one, etc.)

3 to 6 months before start -Recruit and hire peer advisors

-Design training curriculum

1 to 3 months before start -Make initial contact with advisees

-Develop program policies, forms, and database (if necessary)

-Conduct informational meetings for advisees

-Conduct peer advisor training

First week of term -Begin program orientation and kickoff activity

-Coordinate first peer advising meetings

During the program -Initiate program activities

-Hold staff and peer advisor meetings

-Provide ongoing peer advisor training/support

End of term or program -Collect short-term program evaluation including peer advisor training evaluation (end of first term)

-Organize celebration and appreciation ceremony for the end of the semester

-Conduct end of year evaluation (if continuing throughout the academic year)

Finally, staff may also want to evaluate the program at the end of the term, at the end of the academic year and/or on an ongoing basis. When evaluating the program (or aspects of it such as peer advisor training) remember to keep the goals of the peer advising program in mind.

 

Material

Sample survey questions on advisee experience from UCF

Sample survey questions from Leuphana

Sample in-person conversation questions

Worksheets for organizers (meant to be used when reading the different sections of this toolkit):

 

 

Questions 

  • How will you select peer advisors/mentors?
  • How much training or other guidance will you offer?
  • How (if at all) will peer advisors/mentors be monitored?

References

Collier, P. J. (2015). Developing effective peer mentoring programs: A practitioner’s guide to program design, evaluation, and training. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

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