UNM Peer Learning Facilitator Program (PLF)
At UNM, Peer Learning Facilitators are undergraduate students who are invited to join instructional teams in courses where they have previously been successful. PLFs bring equity to large-enrolled courses by increasing access to the instructional team both during and outside class time, assisting instructors in using active learning pedagogies shown to positively impact success for diverse groups of students, and serving as a “near peer” mentor who normalizes life and course challenges and increases help-seeking behaviors from students. In other words, this program helps to bring equity to large-enrolled courses “with students, for students.”
How Does a PLF Support Students and Instructors?
PLFs focus on student facing commitments in the classroom, whether virtual or face-to-face. This includes facilitating student interactions to build communities in small group and larger group discussions, as well as, assisting in deepening student engagement by answering and posing questions during active learning activities.
Most importantly, PLFs serve students by being a near-peer role model. As the PLF has successfully completed the course in which they are now assisting as part of the instructional team, they are able to provide suggestions for how to approach assignments, study for exams, and use UNM resources. These suggestions are powerful because they come from a student perspective.
PLFs also assist students by providing office hours and help sessions, in addition to the instructors and possibly teaching assistant hours. Many times, the PLF can offer help sessions when students who are employed need help, such as after 5:00 PM or weekends. They are also able to assist students through emails and other electronic forms of communication. For students, it is often easier to approach a peer with questions and a need for help, than the instructor.
PLFs assist instructors by helping with low stakes grading. This is especially true for assignments that are focused on feedback for students on their learning or to facilitate alternative approaches and strategies. PLFs are also able to refine course material as they offer feedback on assignments and exams based on a student perspective.
In surveys over the last year, 67% of faculty report that the PLF was important to their ability to use active learning pedagogies and 94% of students report PLFs being important to their ability to pass the course.
What is required of the PLF?
PLFs are paid for the hours they spend supporting students and instructors. The goal is for 10hrs of support paid at a rate of $12 an hour. On campus employment helps students, in terms of being flexible for academic needs as well as easy of access (travel time, parking, etc.).
For all PLFs, attendance of class sessions is part of the 10 hours a week. It is during class times that PLFs lay the foundations for future student interactions and support. PLFs must also attend one-hour weekly sessions with the ‘instructional team’, whether that be just the instructor or a TA, to prepare for the upcoming class sessions/assignments. As the PLF is not an expert in the field, this provides an opportunity for the PLF to ask questions for content or assignments that are not clear. The remaining 6 hours are used by the instructor as needed.
In their first semester, PLFs also enroll in a 3-credit hour EDPY class that provides training in facilitation, pedagogy, and relevant transferable skills. The course, “Facilitating Learning in College Classrooms,” focuses on important theories applicable to supporting learning and motivation. The goal of the course is to create a community of practice where all PLFs walk away with strategies they can use in their next interaction with students.
In surveys over the last year, 87% report the EDPY course being important to their success as PLF and 92% report feeling the EDPY course helped them become better students. Moreover, 88% of PLFs report this experience helping them increase soft skills such as leadership and communication while 90% report this experience increased their content knowledge, which is important considering 95% of PLFs are providing a service to courses required by their major.