The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
The benefits of peer mentoring for students studying in Higher Education are well established and have been demonstrated in online, blended and hybrid settings. Best practice in establishing financially sustainable schemes in online settings at a large scale is under researched. Motivations and barriers for peer mentors working effectively as volunteers are poorly established. Findings of a longitudinal study on undergraduate Earth and Environmental Science modules at The Open University, UK are presented. Peer mentors, (students who had already passed the module) were surveyed before and after completing a 9-month period supporting students asynchronously with non-academic support via a forum. Questionnaires established the challenges and benefits for the mentors, and were followed up by focus groups. Most mentors remained active and committed throughout, identifying few barriers; their expectations before starting were similar to their actual experience. More students regularly volunteer for mentoring than are needed, with many completing more than one round of duty. Some mentors even volunteer in different STEM schools depending on the modules they have studied. Most mentor cohorts comprise experienced (mentors staying on for a second year) and new to the module mentors, thus providing knowledge exchange and continuity of the student experience. This also helps maintain consistency and quality assurance. Costs of the mentoring programme are minimal for a Module team, mostly involved with recruitment and training (staff workload). It is therefore concluded that the mentoring scheme is financially sustainable and transferable to different modules and disciplines. While mentors valued their skills development, further work is required to help them appreciate their employability skills development and potential impact.