PASS is usually attached to courses that have a historically high failure rate and/or are perceived by the student body as being difficult. Many of these courses are core first year courses which students encounter in the first and second semester of their transition to university life. PASS can also be attached to courses for other reasons, such as the establishment of learning communities or the development of discipline-specific learning skills.
The program is non-remedial and open to all students enrolled in the nominated courses. Sessions are led by high achieving senior students called Peer Leaders, who are recruited on the basis of their academic record and their excellent interpersonal skills.
PASS builds upon the work of social constructivists such as Vygotsky (1978) and Piaget (1958) to establish a peer learning environment. For a detailed educational framework that describes what happens in PASS, see Martin & Arendale (1993). Tinto (1987) places PASS in a First Year Experience (FYE) context and describes it as a way of linking a learning community to a course, an approach that has a role in increasing student retention. PASS is differentiated from remedial approaches as it targets "high-risk" courses rather than "high-risk" students, thus avoiding the stigma attached to remedial programs and students' reluctance to self-refer to such programs: "whether through denial, pride, or ignorance, students who need help the most are least likely to request it" (Martin & Arendale, 1993). Claims of PASS' effectiveness at raising student grades, lowering failure rates and improving retention rates have been verified by the US Department of Education.
Collaborative learning is integral to PASS. Learning theory suggests that students who collaborate with their peers and take an active approach to their learning not only earn higher grades, but also have a stronger ground up understanding of course material (Arendale, 2005). It is for this reason that PASS is usually applied to first and second year core courses.
What happens in a typical PASS session?
PASS is a chance to get together in small groups with other students in the course to compare notes, discuss important topics, and to develop strategies for studying and learning.
At each session a Peer Leader will guide students through the course material. Sessions are designed to be informal, flexible, and fun. The focus of each session will be determined by the needs of the group. PASS is a valuable opportunity for students to seek help and advice in a friendly, relaxed environment.
It is important to note that PASS does not provide a tutorial environment. The role of the PASS Leader is to guide the group toward the answer, but getting the right answer will largely be up to students!
Why is PASS so popular with students?
Over 250,000 students from more than 30 countries attend PASS each year. But why? The most obvious result of PASS is that students who attend PASS regularly earn a higher grade than those who do not attend. Apart from this PASS also benefits students as it:
- Gives students an opportunity to evaluate their performance against their peers
- Is scheduled in time-slots which will fill gaps in students timetables
- Improves students' communication skills
- Employs up to 40 students annually. This not only provides leaders with a chance to improve their leadership and teamwork skills, but it also provides a source of income.
PASS is also popular with employers. This is because PASS targets the development of many graduate attributes such as communication and team work skills.
Students also comment that just one hour in PASS can be the same as several hours of private study - giving students more free time
What can students expect from PASS?
- Improve learning techniques applicable to their course within the context of university study. The aim of this is to provide students with skills to become effective independent learners
- Improve understanding of course content
- Be a valued member of their PASS group
- Improve their communication skills
- Have the chance to ask questions that may seem silly, in a supportive environment
- Have access to more study materials, such as past exams or mock exam questions
- Make mates and have fun!
What can students expect from their PASS Leader?
A PASS Leader...
- Is an experienced student, well versed in the content of their course
- Operates as a model student and relays tips on their effective study skills for their discipline
- Will assist students in working out what to learn as well as how to learn it
- Will plan and facilitate activities which aim to encourage collaborative learning
- Will model relevant critical thinking and problem solving techniques
- Will empower students to become independent learners
What is the role of the lecturer in PASS?
PASS does not require an extra effort on behalf of the lecturer; however they are more than welcome to contribute toward the program. For example, some lecturers have provided exercises to leaders to use in their sessions and actively promoted PASS in each lecture. Some lecturers have also commented that PASS decreased their workload on the course as PASS provides another avenue for students to get assistance.
How to implement PASS
If you are interested in implementing PASS in your course at Federation University Australia, please contact the PASS Supervisor in the Centre for Learning Innovation and Professional Practice (CLIPP).
You can contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 1800 FED UNI (1800 333 864) so your call can be directed.