Effectiveness of Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS) in Seminar Courses: A Mixed-Method Study (2015-)

Principal Supervisor(s)/Co-supervisor(s): Dr. SZETO Wai Man, Dr. LI Ming Kenneth, Dr. WU Jun Vivian, Dr. YIP Lo Ming Amber, Mr. LAM Tsz Chun Jonas, Mr. YEUNG Chi Hin Tommy

The General Education Foundation (GEF) Programme, consisting of two seminar courses, namely In Dialogue with Humanity and In Dialogue with Nature, has been a common core requirement of The Chinese University of Hong Kong since 2012. Aided by selected classics, students from all faculties engage in dialogues with their teachers and each other to reflect on what it means to have a good life, what an ideal society is, and the nature of intellectual pursuit in sciences. Reading classics and discussing serious questions in class, however, can be challenging to some students. To help students meet these challenges, Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS), an internationally acclaimed peer-learning model, was introduced in the pilot stage of GEF in 2010 and, with subsequent refinements, continues to this day. PASS is comprised of interactive voluntary off-class sessions where PASS Participants can discuss course issues under the guidance of PASS Leaders, students who have excelled in the same course and have been trained in accredited PASS Leader Training Workshops. PASS creates a non-threatening environment, where students are able to build the understanding of the course content and practise learning strategies without worries about assessment.

As an atypical case for PASS, this research project has examined and evaluated how PASS can improve students’ learning in seminar-style courses like GEF with a mixed-method study from a student perspective. According to evidence from online surveys and focus group interviews, PASS successfully (i) improves students’ understanding of the course content at a cognitive level, (ii) assists and motivates them to prepare better for the seminar discussion, achieving a behavioural change, and (iii) facilitates the attainment of targeted affective learning outcomes in terms of confidence and motivation. Major challenges, including students’ misperception towards PASS, differences in Leaders’ approaches and organisational difficulties, are identified. Proposed solutions to these challenges have also been piloted and will be further evaluated.