Pedagogical Innovation through a Student driven Near-Peer Teaching (NPT) Initiative for Medical Students
– Dr Julie Chen, Ms Vernice Hui Yan Chan and Ms Evelyn Hui Yi Chan
What metaphor would you use to describe the relationship with your student/teacher partners?
Vernice/Evelyn: In our opinion, the relationship between a student and teacher partner is like that of a climber and belayer. As the climber tries to forge a path up the rock face – like a student initiating a new project – they may feel uncertain about which direction to go, take risky steps or even make a mistake and slip. The belayer – much like a teacher – plays an essential role in ensuring that the climber is safe while they explore the route, and can provide valuable guidance and encouragement from being able to see the bigger picture from their position. Like a climber-belayer relationship, a student-staff partnership built on mutual trust and respect is what enables the team to reach greater heights beyond what one individual can achieve on their own.
Julie: We are the accelerator and brake pedals of a car moving along a winding road towards our destination. Vernice and Evelyn are going full speed ahead with their incredible energy and intensity designing and delivering the project while our teaching colleagues and I are the brakes, slowing the car down a bit to raise some points for consideration so we can re-navigate as necessary. The road may look straight but there are bends and twists beyond the horizon that are not visible in the beginning, just as our project encountered some unexpected obstacles that we needed to overcome before reaching our destination.
Can you share a specific project wherein you engaged in student-staff partnerships? Tell us more about the project?
Vernice/Evelyn: We co-created a Near Peer Teaching (NPT) initiative which enables medical students to design and deliver interactive tutorials to their junior peers. Through NPT sessions, both peer teachers and peer learners are able to consolidate their medical knowledge and gain skills that are transferable to medical school and beyond in their professional careers.
We hoped that, by connecting younger students with their seniors who have experienced similar struggles and thus understand their needs and concerns, NPT would strengthen both academic and non-academic support systems for students.
What lessons did you learn or what benefits did you see from engaging in student-staff partnerships?
Vernice/Evelyn: Student-staff partnerships are powerful in that they bring together the skill sets and perspectives of both students and teachers to achieve a synergistic effect. While teachers help to guide the development of student projects and enhance their robustness, students can draw from their own experiences to ensure that projects address student needs.
Julie: In not so many years, our students will be our colleagues and I regard my student partners as junior colleagues rather than students, who share similar interests and aims. These partnerships lead to projects and other initiatives but more importantly to relationships that are mutually beneficial. We can draw on each other’s strengths when working together, build networks for collaboration beyond the current project, and help advance teaching and learning. While students expect that they are the learners, I find that I learn just as much from them and am immeasurably inspired by their innovation and thinking!
What did your students gain from the student-staff partnership?
Julie: Through working with Vernice and Evelyn on this project, and from partnering with other students who have begun initiatives related to medical education, medical humanities, learner wellbeing or patient care, I have seen students pursue areas of personal interest and meaning and gain confidence as well as achieve academic benefit beyond the formal curriculum. When involved in the partnership, they become more comfortable in freely expressing their ideas, trying something new and most importantly, being less afraid of failing and seeing that their teachers also don’t have all the answers.
What takeaway message do you have for teachers who want to try out student-staff partnerships?
Vernice/Evelyn: The value of teachers in student-staff partnerships lies not only in what they can provide directly to students, in terms of ideas, feedback and resources, but also in what they choose not to provide – the blank spaces that they leave for students to fill and the unanswered questions that they encourage students to solve by themselves. As a student, knowing that teachers respect and have faith in your ideas is incredibly empowering and motivates you to achieve more than you may have originally expected of yourself.
Julie: It may be intimidating for students to approach a staff to share an idea or initiative they wish to pursue, so being welcoming and receptive can help overcome that hurdle. I have also found actively seeking out promising students or deliberately recruiting students who share my vision and interest for a particular project or initiative can also be a start to a fulfilling partnership. The key is to be genuinely interested and invested in the partnership journey and the outcomes will take care of themselves.