HERDSA 2012: Session 1 notes – Peer Assisted Teaching Schemes

The second talk I went to in session 1 was more work on A/Professor Angela Carbone’s work in Peer Assisted Teaching Schemes, for which she has highly awarded and, for 2013, will be taking up a senior fellowship at the national level to continue this work. Congratulations, Ange! The subtitle of the talk was “A Way of Creating and Developing New Connections”.

There is a lot of support for new academics in terms of induction and teacher preparation but what about those educators who are already established but have units that are in need of reform or reduce? Who do they turn to in order to get help? What if you just want to adopt new technologies and you’ve been in the game for decades? Who can you ask for help? The core of the PATS work is that we need to think about teaching standards, more experienced staff, transition issues, risks, and new technology.

We are constantly being assessed – CEQ, SETU/SELT, lots of controversy around these instruments. Arts and Humanities seem to appear better than physical sciences, and there is not much research from either side to answer the question ‘why?’ Do student evaluations measure student outcomes or teacher effectiveness? According to the research, they don’t actually measure either. The use of these things for management addds stress to academics and their school – people get stressed when they even just use these measures in their class.

So, if we’re stressed, struggling and trying to adapt, it’s pretty obvious that we need help but the question is “where does this help come from?

What is PATS: academics within a faculty are partnered together and follow an informal process to discuss strategies to improve unit quality and develop educational innovations.


  • to improve student satisfaction with units
  • improve the quality of teaching
  • to build leadership capacity amongst teachers.

A mentor and mentee are linked in a reciprocal partnership. The theoretical basis this comes from a large number of sources including Vygotsky, Lave, Gratch and Boud, looking at our teaching through four lenses, after Brookfield 1995. The four lenses are: the student view, the theoretical view, the autobiographical view and the colleague’s view, where another academic can serve as a critical friend.

The relationship between mentor and mentee begins before the semester, where the relationship is developed, with ongoing catch up sessions through the semester, discussion and review, including subsidised coffee meetings, culminating in a critical review (with a friendly perspective) and self-reflection. This is looking at all of the aspects with a critical eye but alongside someone that you now have a relationship with – a critical friend to assist you in your own reflection. However, within this, there are workshops and deliverables to make sure that both parties are actually working in and at the relationship – it’s not a free coffee club.

I can’t summarise all of the PATS work in one post but I think we can all identify people around us who might fall into this category: people who might need help but are outside of the traditional bootstrapping systems that we employ. A/Prof Carbone also commented that there were people that were taking part who were looking to improve good courses to really good ones, rather than just trying to fix courses that had been identified as under-performing. This was helping to reduce any lingering stigma at being in a PATS relationship with someone. Some of the unexpected results included the mentors and mentees forming a relationship that allowed them to work together on research and development beyond the designated course improvement.

In the framework of this conference, which is all about connections and community, it’s obvious that PATS is helping to link people together, making connections and building community. There are lots of works to read on this, and I enjoy reading through the theoretical underpinnings as well. (Plus, you know I’m a Vygotsky fan…) I already knew about this work but it’s always interesting to see how it’s evolving and developing.

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