Dr Valda Miller - PASS Project Team
Dr Valda Miller - PASS Project Team
Category 1: The first-year experience

Supporting first-year student learning through Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS)

Organisational Unit:
School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences, School of Integrative Biology, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, School of Physical Sciences

Project Team:
Dr Valda Miller, Mrs Elwyn Oldfield, Mr Graham Jordan, Ms Mia O'Brien

The school-based and coordinated Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS) program has been incorporated into the core curricula of the majority of large first level biological and physical sciences courses offered by the schools of Integrative Biology, Molecular and Microbial Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Geography, Planning and Architecture. The principles of action learning are applied in PASS and the cornerstones of each session are the activities provided by high achieving, course competent second and third level undergraduate student leaders. These curriculum-based activities are designed to encourage student involvement and communication in an atmosphere of cooperative and collaborative learning.

The commitment of the PASS leaders assists students from diverse academic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to adjust to tertiary education, and decreases the social isolation often experienced by new students. PASS provides a collegial atmosphere where leaders act as role models for students by monitoring their study techniques and providing formative assessment tasks to align faculty teaching with student learning. It also provides an excellent system for the development of leadership and communication skills for the leaders.

A unique feature of the program is the extensive library of previous leader-generated, multi-disciplinary, formative learning activities which comprises sustainable and renewable reference material which can be amended to ensure that current course content is aligned with student learning and progressive assessment practice.

Evidence indicates that regular attendance at PASS is associated with stronger academic outcomes, lower attrition rates and higher recruitment of students to later years of related discipline areas. PASS participants experience greater satisfaction with their educational endeavours by this personalised and social constructivist approach to higher education. Feedback from students who attend PASS sessions is consistently positive and their support for the program has resulted in its continued expansion.

Nationally and internationally, the dynamics of the PASS program has attracted attention in terms of its success in targeting student learning and engagement, notably retention issues. Since 2002 the University’s PASS team has been host to teams of academics, student support staff and teaching and learning research staff from other universities who participate in the PASS leader training and development workshop. Coordinators have collaborated with learning advisors from universities within Australia who are interested in implementing PASS as a successful supplementary learning module to their courses.

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