UCL Changemakers


Academic Development & Support

Let's explore the theme 'Academic Development: personal tutoring and peer support' and see what you could do for your ChangeMaker Project.

Academic development & support is a huge area, so this year we are asking for applications in two distinct areas: Personal Tutoring and peer support & mentoring.

Personal Tutoring

UCL doesn't have a one-size-fits-all approach to personal tutoring. It is up to each department to determine the best way to offer personal tutoring to its students, meaning there is a wide variety of approaches and models that could be taken up. A personal tutor should be the 'go-to' person in the department for their tutees and provide them with academic and general wellbeing support, underpinned by a wide infrastructure of central support services for personal tutors to signpost their students to when needed.

However, we know the expectations around what a personal tutor does and what support they are able to provide can feel different depending on whether you are looking at this from a staff or student perspective. Staff, understandably, can feel anxious about their ability to support their students, particularly with more complex issues. Students are often looking for someone who knows them and who can provide good advice about which modules to take (or at least, ask the right questions to help guide their thinking) and help connect them with the vast array of opporutnities at UCL. Students often tell us that there is a lot going on at UCL and they feel like they hear about opportunities too late.

Where to start?

ChangeMakers funding can be used to have an open dialogue about the expectations and needs of both staff and students to help shape a more sensitive approach, utilising the resources available in the department in the best possible way. For the personal tutoring theme, we are strongly suggesting projects follow our personal tutoring project template (on Moodle UCL login required) as a good way to have those conversations. We will be working with Pete Fitch to link these project together and share learning across teams and more widely at UCL.

Peer support & mentoring

There has always been a lot of interest in using ChangeMakers funding to develop peer mentoring and support schemes (and you can read some of our case studies on this topic). This could be to continue transitions support, for skills development, to enable students to continue to develop their competency using key software or technology needed on their courses or even just to cultivate and support interest in particular area of the curriculum.

Peer support schemes are beneficial for all when set up and properly supported:

  • They can provide extra resource to staff where there is not sufficient space within the curriculum to support certain areas e.g., the development of writing skills or time to practice using a particular piece of software. 
  • For student mentors/tutors, they gain valuable leadership and listening skills and it is also an opportunity to consolidate previous learning or mastery of the areas they are supporting.
  • It can provide valuable teaching experience to undergraduate students.
  • For mentees, it is often easier to share any problems your are having with a near-peer, can provide valuable space to talk to peers and provide extra time to develop skills/proficiencies
  • For all, it builds a greater sense of community within the cohort: student mentors/teachers are working closely with staff to develop learning activities and structure meaningful opportunities to engage with their mentees and the mentees feel better supported and are able to connect with other students in the department.
  • It can give students greater agency over their learning e.g., students starting up a journal club to help each other explore their interests and develop their critical readiing skills. 

Where to start?

Making better use of UCL tools, systems and platforms

UCL has introduced a range of new tools, platforms and systems since the pandemic. At the time, we were forced to pick up and use them at speed but you could use your ChangeMakers funding to investigate how to really utilise some of these tools to support student learning. Your project could particularly focus on how these tools can be used to build increased opportunities for students to interact with, learn from and support one another. 

Near-peer mentoring

A near-peer mentor is close to the social, professional, or age level of the mentee. Near-peer mentors are better able to interact with and understand the struggles of students and students often find it easier to be open about their struggles with a peer than with a member of staff. We have had a lot of successful ChangeMakers projects based on near-peer mentoring, e.g. 3rd year students working with 2nd year students on an topic that student feedback has shown to be challenging or in using a piece of software that is integral to the course but where, maybe, students without a certain disciplinary background might struggle more than others and require some additional support. 

Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring is different to traditional mentoring, where normally the more experienced person is paired up with someone relatively inexperienced in that area. Reverse mentoring does the opposite, positioning the less experienced person as the mentor. The idea being that the more experienced person is paired with someone more 'junior' to them in order to help them gain a fresh perspective and insights in what it is like being someone relatively new to that field/area or, in the context of higher education, what it is like to be a student now. 

Engaging students with their learning in other ways

We have had a number of projects recently looking at how students can work with staff to co-design engaging content in less traditional formats e.g. podcast, infographics, stories, images and short videos. Students often have really interesting ideas for how content could be delivered and the technical expertise to deliver it and staff provide the expert and pedagogical knowledge to help shape those resources. ChangeMakers funding is a great way to explore fresh, new ideas and for students to develop their skills in creating teaching materials. 

TIP: You might want to create these resources as an additional resource to test out how useful or engaging they are, which is fine...but make sure as part of the project you are also looking at where and how they could be embedded within courses.