By David Griffin
Academic demands on university students can be extremely taxing. As a result, from the early stages in many courses, a significant proportion of students struggle academically and even express a desire to withdraw from the course entirely. Kim et al. (2021) recognised this concern among nursing students, stressing the incurred costs of failure and withdrawal to the students, the university and the healthcare system, which depends on sufficient numbers of newly qualified practitioners.
One recognised method of improving academic success and student retention is peer tutoring. This form of tutoring can support the integration of students into a profession, promote knowledge and skills acquisition and help build student confidence with subject material. It can also promote a helpful atmosphere of collaboration within the student body (Irvine et al., 2018; Jeffreys, 2015). Tutoring may take the form of ‘peer-to-peer’ teaching, in which students from the same class act as tutors, or as ‘near-peer’ teaching, where students in the year above provide tuition.
To explore the impact of peer tutoring on nursing students at Texas State University, Kim et al. (2021) selected the graduating class of 2020. These students were offered a peer-tutoring program for three core courses over three separate semesters in their first year. The tutoring program provided one-on-one help for any student feeling a need for academic support. The main objectives of the tutoring program were:
Student tutors were selected from both the same class as the tutoring program attendees (peer-to-peer tutors) and from the year above (near-peer tutors). They were chosen based on a range of criteria including their interpersonal skills and knowledge of course content. They received $10 per hour for their work. They were also given two hours of training in advance of starting and provided with ongoing support from faculty as needed throughout the semester. The authors sought to compare the rates of failure and final exam results between students with and without access to peer tutoring. To do this, the graduating class of 2018 were chosen as a historical comparison group. The investigators also aimed to gain a greater understanding of student perceptions of peer tutoring from both the perspective of the tutors and the attendees. Some fascinating results were discovered through this study. These can be summarised as follows:
When compared to the historical class of 2018 who had no peer tutoring access, the class of 2020 had a significantly reduced course failure rate. Those students who availed of the tutoring program, perhaps unsurprisingly, had achieved lower exam scores early in each semester. However, between the start and end of each semester, those same students achieved significant grade improvements. In comparison, students who did not use the program saw no significant change in their grades.
Attendees of two or more tutoring sessions saw an average increase of 4.9% in their grade.
Over 90% of attendees reported finding the tutoring session helpful and reported an improvement in their understanding of key concepts. Over 75% reported it enabled them to study independently and aided their skills in critical thinking/problem solving.
Student tutors also recognised value in the program from their own perspective. All reported an increase in their critical thinking skills and expected the experience to be valuable to them in their future nursing careers.
This study effectively demonstrated the benefits of introducing a simple peer-to-peer tutoring program in university courses. The authors concluded that, considering the benefits observed over the course of the study, the $3,600 cost of employing student tutors was justified. Such tutoring programs may offer a much-needed lifeline to those students who struggle most, while also providing additional support to those who are motivated to improve their academic performance. It may also aid educators and universities in producing confident and capable academics and professionals.
[Source] Kim, S.C., Jillapali, R., Boyd, S., 2021. Impacts of peer tutoring on academic performance of first-year baccalaureate nursing students: A quasi-experimental study. Nurse Educ. Today 96, 1-6.
 Jeffreys, M.R., 2015. Jeffreys’s nursing universal retention and success model: overview and action ideas for optimizing outcomes A-Z. Nurse Educ. Today 35 (3), 425–431.