Peer support for 1st year Informatics students.
What is PALS?
PALS stands for Peer Assisted Learning Scheme. PALS is a system of student-to-student support where new university students are supported in their studies by later-year students (PALS leaders/facilitators). The student-led PALS session is where peer-assisted learning 'happens'. Students set the agenda for the session, and work together to get the most out of the experience. Guided and supported by the PALS leaders, each session is a chance for students to share any questions, problems or worries - academic or otherwise - within an informal, friendly and supportive environment.
PALS leaders can be undergraduate students in their second, third, fourth, (or fifth) year of an Informatics degree, but are most frequently in their second year. Importantly, leaders do not teach - they do not give answers, but instead aim to guide students to the answers for themselves (this is called facilitation). Leaders might offer advice, or help with skills such as revision and exam techniques, but will not give specific answers to questions on course content. Their job is to help students to be effective at collaborative but independent learning. In other words leaders help students 'learn how to learn', particularly within the context of group study.
The first Semester of university can be a scary time, but with the friendship and support of fellow students, it doesn't have to be. PALS aims to support new university students through the transition to Higher Education, whilst developing their learning and study strategies such as exam and revision techniques. In this way, PALS aims to ease both the academic and social transition into university life.
Peer-assisted learning schemes have been shown to work, and are growing throughout many universities in the UK and the world, across many disciplines.
In particular, first year and second year direct entry Informatics students taking Mathematics courses are likely to also benefit from MathPALS.
Why take part in InfPALS?
All new Informatics students taking INF1-CL and INF1-FP have the opportunity to attend InfPALS sessions throughout Semester 1. Over 50 students attended InfPALS sessions last year, and the feedback was so positive that the scheme has been expanded this year to accommodate even more students. In last year's feedback survey, 83% of respondents reported that InfPALS helped them "connect to other students, and/or adjust to [their] first year at uni", and 73% of respondents said PALS had helped them with "general Informatics skills" either "substantially" or "quite a bit".
It is clear that on any course we learn as much from working through things with one another as we do from formal classes. But sometimes we are not always clear about how to work through things with one another. What is important? Who do I ask? What must I understand and what should I leave until later? How do I ensure we don't all just propagate incorrect information?InfPALS is there to help facilitate learning from one another. It shows how to ask the right questions, and how to know what you know and what you don't.
There are many benefits to attending InfPALS sessions:
- All leaders have recently been in your position as a new student, and remember what it's like. Your fellow students are also likely to be having the same issues as you, and by asking questions you often realise that you are not the only one who wants the answer. For these reasons, the opportunity InfPALS provides to ask any question - academic or otherwise - is one of the main benefits of InfPALS. As advice to new first years, a previous InfPALS student wrote "Whether you have questions about the course or not, attend [InfPALS] because you'll always learn something."
- Academically, InfPALS gives you the opportunity to further develop key study skills that will come in useful throughout your education - revision techniques, effective group study techniques, how to identify the most important concepts, and more. At InfPALS you can ask any question, but by the end of the Semester, you will be able to pinpoint better what you don't know, and therefore ask better questions that give you the answers you need. These skills are likely to improve your grades, but more importantly, they will improve your education.
- Socially, InfPALS is great for developing confidence and social skills. More than that, InfPALS is great fun. It isn't too serious (all attendees are students) and the atmosphere is very relaxed. You may have made friends at university already, but InfPALS offers you the chance to meet even more of your fellow students, and develop friendships that will last throughout your time at university.
Further selected quotes from previous InfPALS students:
- "It is the most useful resource in my opinion, I get much more out of InfPALS than my tutorials or lectures in terms of really understanding the topics we cover."
- "It is a very nice and welcoming atmosphere to discuss the things we're not very confident with about our course, it is a very valuable resource."
- "It helps especially those who are approaching Informatics courses for the first time."
- "It was helpful in the sense that people expected you to come there because you don't understand something and you realise that it's fine and normal."
- "It was definitely helpful as a consolidation of key concepts and also for understanding difficult ones."
First year first semester InfPALS is about easing the transition from high school into university. It is a chance to meet new people, become comfortable in the university setting, and learn vital study skills to help you through your whole degree.
As of this year InfPALS has expanded into semester 2, exclusively for 2nd year students.
When entering Honours there are a lot of informatics related skills a CS student is expected to have picked up which they may not have been 'explicitly' taught during their first two years at university. These include things such as version control, LaTeX, UNIX command line, etc.
InfPALS in semester two will run 2-hour long workshops every other week (weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) covering a total of 5 topics throughout the semester of vital informatics peer-led skills workshops. Each workshop will be run multiple times during the same week by different 2nd year ‘leaders’, where students will have the chance to explore the given topic and work together to understand the various possibilities each of these vital tools have. The ‘leaders’ will manage a productive group setting and facilitate good discussion with the goal of maximising the students’ learning of the given skill. They will prepare some hands-on activities to accomplish this goal.
The purpose of second year second semester InfPALS is to ease the transition into honours, and prepare the students for the challenges ahead by making them more familiar with all the tools and skills required to succeed.
Why be an InfPALS leader?
As an InfPALS leader you are supported every step of the way - from your initial training through until your last session. You will generally lead sessions in pairs so you are not thrown into it alone, and you will be trained and well prepared before you co-lead your first session. As well as working with your fellow leaders, you are also guided and supported by the more experienced senior leaders. Senior leaders help with your initial training, and are available throughout the Semester to discuss any problems or issues that arise during your sessions. Senior leaders are also there to help you develop your skills as a leader, and will aim to provide you ongoing training and feedback. As a whole, the InfPALS scheme is supervised by a member of academic staff.
The time commitment is manageable, and after the initial training, you will spend about 3 hours a week on InfPALS for as long as the sessions are running. Per week, this is broken down to give 1 hour for session planning, 1 hour for the session itself, and 1 hour per week for a 'debriefing' session, where leaders come together to share session plans, leading techniques, and to discuss and resolve any problems encountered during sessions. The more time you put in, the more you get out of it, but during busy times later in the Semester, you will have gained enough experience to be able to plan sessions quickly, and manage your time effectively.
There are many benefits to being an InfPALS leader:
- The experience is great to talk about during interviews, and will enhance your CV.
- All InfPALS senior leaders have the opportunity to gain an Edinburgh Award. This is also great for your CV.
- If you put in enough hours, you can gain recognition for InfPALS on your HEAR transcript.
- You will be absolutely rolling in transferrable skills - time management, directing discussion, self-confidence, public speaking, communication, leadership, interpersonal interaction, understanding others, communication, teamwork, organisation; the list goes on. All these buzzwords sound great, but importantly, developing these skills helps you develop as a person, and will actually prepare you to act effectively in future jobs and situations where these skills are required.
- Whilst voluntary, InfPALS is great preparation for teaching support roles in future years (which are paid!), as many of the skills you learn as an InfPALS leader are crucial for teaching effectively. And these skills are not importnat just for teaching - being an InfPALS leader helps to prepare you for any situation where you are leading a group, or chairing a discussion/meeting.
Selected quotes from previous InfPALS leaders:
- "The biggest personal benefit is my ability to coordinate groups and learn how [...] others think"
- "[I learned about] holding back-- giving others more space. Timekeeping. Being aware of group dynamics, while talking/explaining/facilitating."
- "I've gained or improved my skills in planning, organizing; I'm better at public speaking and working with others."
- "I think PALS has given me the experience and confidence to be better at leading and managing any kind of group situation, from group work at university to social situations such as parties!"
- "I am demonstrating a course next semester and plan on tutoring in the future and I think PALS has given me the basic experience and group skills such that I don't have to worry about that side of the jobs, and can focus more on the content. I think PALS has given me an advantage over other candidates for these jobs, both in terms of getting the job and knowing how to do it effectively."
- "More confident, open-minded."
- "I liked it and I think I learned a lot about me."
Information for InfPALS 2017/2018
How do I sign up to attend InfPALS sessions?
Please sign up with the link below. We will advertise InfPALS at INF2B and INF2D lectures during Week 1.
When/where are the sessions?
Semester 2 InfPALS sessions take place during weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. There are several sessions each week; all take place in Appleton Tower, and at different times Monday-Friday. All sessions last 2 hours. When you sign up you can choose the time that best suits your timetable (subject to availability). The sessions are run in either room 5.04 or 5.08 depending on the day, the room allocation for each session time is clear on the sign up poll.
How do I sign up to be an InfPALS leader?
Unfortunately, sign-ups for InfPALS leader are now closed as enough leaders have been selected to cover all sessions. Thank you to all those who applied.
Where can I find out more?
In 2017/18, InfPALS is jointly led by Hanne Carlsson and Jano Horvath. We would love to hear from you! Feel free to email one of us.