Analysis of the data resulted in the emergence of three thematic categories: Learning Environment, Educational Exchange and Communication and Modelling. A summary, descriptive account of the key findings from these categories follows. "Respondents were assigned a respondent code according to whether they were peer tutors (PT1 and PT2) or peer learners (PL), and whether the data was collected "pre" or "post" the PAL session. While every effort was made to systematically identify individual peer learners in the focus groups, poor quality of tape recording made it impossible to do so at the transcribing stage."
Comments about the learning environment were positive. Both PL and PT described feeling more relaxed and comfortable during the session.
"I think it was a lot more informal and relaxed and it was like.... We weren't as, well I didn't feel as much pressure.." (PL) [post]
The importance of the learning environment was noted by tutors and learners. PT were aware of the idea of creating a "level playing field" (PT1) [pre] with "no barriers" (PT2) [pre]. Similarly, PL felt that the PT were "more down to earth" [post] and that they could "relate to them more" [post] than faculty tutors. This safeness described in the learning environment was recognised by PL prior to the workshop ....
"...you will feel more free to ask questions and gather information."
...and appeared to enhance PL participation.
"I suppose you'd be more willing to ask questions of your peer off the top of your head whereas you might spend a whole lecture preparing your question."
The safe learning environment seemed to be the basic building block that facilitated a growth of confidence in both learner and tutor. The fact that the PT were peers and had to ability to assimilate the material being taught and demonstrate it with confidence, made the PL feel that they would be able to achieve the same:
"I think even watching (the peer tutor)... there was a lot of things that he was using that he had learnt, and it's really encouraging to see that he was using them and he was well able to do it.." (PL) [post]
Once a degree of confidence and trust exists, it creates an ideal atmosphere for learning to take place. It was evident that this learning was a process of exchange and was recognised as such by both learners and tutors:
"When you teach something that's when you know it best"
"I looked at it as an opportunity.....to better myself and.......to help others if I could and for them to help me"
There was a feeling among the PL that the quality of the information provided by the PT would be of greater value as it was perceived to be more immediate, believable, relevant and useful.
"It might help (the peer tutors) as well because they're just after learning it so if they can pass on what they've learnt it'll help them to learn it, but eh, give us a different perspective of it as well"
This was also recognised by the PT:
"It's always handy to have someone who's just done it and who has helpful hints as opposed to trying to figure them out for yourself"
Peer learners emphasised that they felt the PT would bring a unique and very useful perspective to the session due to their immediacy with the material and their student-like approach. They felt the PT would ensure that the session was relevant and would be aware of the potential learning difficulties and ways of surpassing these.
"It'll be a different perspective altogether when a senior tells you rather than a lecturer or a tutor...you might take it as a different approach and you might feel closer....you will feel more free to ask questions and gather information....you'll kind of feel ... well they'll have had the same problems as we have or the same difficulties." (PL) [pre]
This exchange of knowledge was also recognised as the area of greatest limitation for PAL generally. This was a concern for the PL who thought that...
"..one disadvantage of (peer learning) might be that the tutor might not have the same type of knowledge or experience as a (faculty member)"
...and for the PT who realised the limitations to their own knowledge...
"I think that's the biggest disadvantage for the students... that you wouldn't actually know it as well as an actual teacher."
Communication and modelling
It is evident from the data that communication and learning was taking place freely and on a number of different levels between tutors and learners.
"...if he was someone who was a tutor.... I think you'd spend so much time trying to get an intelligent question..... but with (the peer tutor) ..you just said what you thought anyway...... I think you'd be more likely to volunteer an answer with him rather than with a tutor..." (PL) [post]
This was especially pertinent as the PL were being taught communication skills and the PT became a useful role model in consciously and subconsciously demonstrating those very skills:
"...lot of things that we were told about this morning and that we had employed in the actual role play......eye contact, relaxed posture and making everyone around you feel relaxed....(the peer tutor) had been using them."
This concept of "modelling" extended beyond the material being taught however, and appeared to provide the PL with a newfound confidence in their ability to progress along the educational journey:
"....when I see him kinda being so down to earth and all the rest I can think well I can be that way as well...." (PL) [post]