The rapid move to predominately online learning engendered by the COVID-19 crisis created an urgent need to rethink support mechanisms central to student engagement and transition, namely community-building and identity within the institution. One important support mechanism, practised and widely researched in a variety of pre-pandemic contexts (e.g. Hall and Jaugietis, 2011), is peer mentoring. This article describes the establishment of student peer mentor schemes in several departments of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health at Durham University in academic year 2020-21 and assesses their nature and effectiveness. Whilst the shift to online delivery of teaching was anxiety provoking, it also catalysed ongoing engagement efforts. Staff were conscious that peer mentor schemes could be vital in supporting new students - particularly those from marginalised backgrounds - whilst also offering continuing students another connection to the university by volunteering as mentors. This article has several significant dimensions. We explored and integrated perspectives of staff and students (acting as mentors and mentees). In so doing, we conducted this research with student participants who were integral to the development of departmental mentoring schemes. Relatedly, our research emphasis was on identifying elements of the schemes that may not have worked well, with the practical aim of devising improvements. In order to do this, we chose a sequential mixed methods approach, combining quantitative questionnaire data with qualitative focus group insights, something which has surprisingly been under-utilised in this research field. A set of guiding principles to support mentoring in other contexts, was then co-created with students from the focus group. Furthermore, this research relates to an unprecedentedly challenging context for staff and students alike in the higher education (HE) sector, engendered by the COVID-19 crisis and thus contributes to a newly developing area of research. We develop these points in the literature review that follows. The third section of this paper considers research context, the fourth covers research design and our findings are reported in the fifth section. In the spirit of action research, the sixth section offers our guiding principles, developed in light of our findings, for those wishing to develop departmental peer mentor schemes (McAteer, 2013; McNiff, 2013; Elliott, 1991).
Bruce, M., Gangoli, G., Mates, L., Millican, A. S., & Dodd-Reynolds, C. (2023). Peer-mentoring in a pandemic: an evaluation of a series of new departmental peer-mentor schemes created to support student belonging and transition during COVID-19. Student engagement in higher education journal, 5(1), 61-82