The Value of Peer Education in Graduate Programs

Dr. Ellen Mauer
Dr. Ellen Mauer
Elementary school principal; Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
A group of college students works on homework around a table, books scattered between them.

What is Peer Education?

Peer educators are student leaders with some level of expertise or training in the area they are serving students. They are students themselves but take on an additional role similar to that of a mentor and can assist with tutoring in small groups, large groups, or individually. They can also provide emotional support and advise less experienced students.

What are the Benefits of Peer Education?

There are many benefits of peer education in graduate programs. Peer educators are encouraging to students, which can help attitudes toward learning. Using a peer educator for learning is more engaging and enables personalization of the learning experience for students. Student goals and questions can be more specifically focused upon. This may lead to higher academic achievement as a more engaging experience has shown academic benefits.

Peer educators also provide a different kind of emotional support to graduate students than that of a regular professor. Peer educators are closer in age, experience, and are more likely to bond with the student. Professors may come and go depending upon the classes that are taken; however, a peer educator is there for the entire experience and can provide important stability.

It is vital to check into peer educators when selecting a graduate-level program so that the student knows they will have that additional support throughout the entire experience. Without peer education groups, a graduate student may feel more uncertain and lack confidence. Stress levels may be higher, and it can be easier for a student to give up.

How to Promote Peer Education in Graduate Programs

You can expect peer educators to have accurate information and be able to help with issues that may arise, whether they are more content-oriented or of a personal nature. As a first step, professors in graduate programs should encourage students to seek out help or advice from a peer educator.

Group Study Sessions

If a student is having trouble understanding the details of differentiation in lesson planning, the peer educator could host small group study sessions or be available to answer questions.

Scheduling Help

Perhaps a student is having difficulty getting their schedule and the graduate program to fit together. A peer educator can look over the scheduling issues and make suggestions for things the student can try to do to rectify the issues. Ultimately, it is up to the student to implement what works best for them. Peer educators can be a strong source of support for a master’s graduate student, doctoral graduate student, and more.

Diverse Peer Feedback

Peer educators will be non-judgmental and respectful of a student’s status. They will be able to provide excellent feedback and support in both content and social situations relating to their field of study. This is helpful as there are various types of students in a graduate-level education program. There may be somewhat older adults pursuing a second career and some students who are just beginning. The peer educator will be able to bridge any gaps in understanding for all kinds of students.

Suppose the second career student is having trouble adapting to what the school culture and climate is during their observations. A peer educator can talk about school cultures in general and help that student to get a better idea of what goes on in the school workplace.

Observation/Student Teaching Advice

There are significant differences between the corporate world and a school. Likewise, a beginning student may be having trouble arranging their observations or student teaching experiences. A peer educator may be able to give concrete suggestions as to how to go about contacting various schools and suggest ways to speak to the administrators in charge.

A newer student may not have built up contacts in the education field like a more seasoned student has. The peer educator will assist as much as they can while helping to build up the student’s confidence level regardless of the issue. Peer educators help you, as the student, to focus on understanding things rather than solving problems for you. They help you help yourself.

Help Tackling Problems

If a graduate student is experiencing difficulty in their observation or student teaching, they may feel they are not connecting with the cooperating teacher on a philosophical level and may want to talk about it.

The student can ask a peer educator to help them narrow down the problem and brainstorm why this may be happening. They may work together to develop a list of ways the student can approach the cooperating teacher or role-play how the situation may play out. The student must then decide which methods to try for themselves.

Sometimes graduate-level students want to play a larger part in their observation or student teaching program than what is prescribed. The peer educator can help them find a good way to approach their cooperating teacher about modifications to the program. This can be helpful and lead to good experiences to highlight on a resume.

It is easier for students to approach someone more on their level who has just been through some of the same things rather than going to a full-time professor with these things. There may be a hesitancy to go to a professor since the professor assigns grades, and a student may be worried it could make them look bad in front of them.

Personal Advice

If a student is having trouble with something like behavior management, they may be afraid that the professor will think they did not fully learn the material. It would be less stressful for a student to seek a peer educator to ask questions about how these behavior strategies realistically work, not only in theory. In addition, more personal issues may pop up that a graduate student will want to discuss with a peer educator rather than a professor.

Because the peer educator is at a different level, the student might be more comfortable talking about these more personal topics with them. These can be anything from health issues to scheduling issues to ways to approach their professor or cooperating teacher about things.

If the university you attend offers peer educators as a resource, it would be very beneficial to take advantage of them for additional help and advice. They can help to give a different perspective than that of a seasoned professor.

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