How peer mentoring fosters graduate attributes
Scott, Carole A.; McLean, Angela; and Golding, Clinton, How peer mentoring fosters graduate
attributes, Journal of Peer Learning
How peer mentoring fosters graduate attributes
Carole A. Scott 0 1 2
0 University of Otago New Zealand
1 Clinton Golding University of Otago
2 Angela McLean University of Otago
Follow this and additional works at: https://ro.uow.edu.au/ajpl
Journal of Peer Learning (2019) Vol 12: 29?44
How peer mentoring fosters graduate
Carole A. Scott, Angela McLean, and Clinton Golding
The most common approach to foster graduate attributes is to teach them in
the curriculum of a bachelor?s degree. However, it is difficult to include every
graduate attribute in every degree. In this article we consider how co-curricular
peer mentoring might provide an additional approach. We examine a case
study of the mentors of the Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) programme
at a research-intensive university in New Zealand, and we examine the process
by which they developed graduate attributes. PASS mentors reported that they
developed a range of graduate attributes such as communication, critical
thinking, and ethical responsibility, due to the extra responsibility and
leadership involved in being a mentor in an authentic work environment. We
argue that co-curricular programmes such as PASS can provide useful
additional opportunities for students to acquire and develop graduate
attributes. While not all students will be able to participate as PASS mentors,
we also argue that our findings can inform other programmes for fostering
graduate attributes. If these programmes offer authentic responsibilities to
participating students, they may be more effective at fostering graduate
Graduate attributes are now an important focus in higher education research
and practice. These are ?the skills, knowledge and abilities of university
graduates, beyond disciplinary content knowledge, which are applicable to a
range of contexts. It is intended that university students acquire these qualities
as one of the outcomes of successfully completing any undergraduate degree
at a University?
(Barrie, 2012, 80)
. It is now common for universities and other
tertiary institutions to list the graduate attributes they want their graduates to
develop, such as critical thinking or communication
(Barrie, 2006; Bridgstock,
2009; Clanchy & Ballard, 1995; Hager & Holland, 2006; Spronken-Smith et al.,
An institution typically fosters graduate attributes by embedding learning
opportunities within the curriculum
(Barrie, 2004, 2006, 2012; Hager &
. As a student studies physics or history, for instance, they also
develop graduate attributes such as critical thinking. However, this
curriculumbased approach may lead to inconsistent outcomes for students, as not all
attributes are addressed in all courses
(Cranmer, 2006; Green, Hammer, & Star,
2009; Hager & Holland, 2006)
. For example, a mathematics graduate might have
developed high levels of critical thinking, but not teamwork.
We suggest that the typical curriculum-based approach to developing graduate
attributes can be supplemented with a co-curricular approach. In particular, we
argue that co-curricular peer learning and support may provide a valuable
complementary approach to foster graduate attributes.
The peer learning programme we focus on is the co-curricular Peer Assisted
Study Sessions (PASS), based on Supplemental Instruction developed in the
USA in the 1970s
(Martin and Hurley, 2005)
. In PASS, students attend weekly
study sessions for a course in which they are enrolled, typically a first-year
course such as law or physics. PASS sessions are facilitated by second- or
thirdyear students who have successfully completed the course, and who typically
have participated in PASS when they were first-year students. The facilitators
are trained and supported by PASS mentors who had been PASS facilitators for
at least one year before becoming a mentor
(Horwood et al., 2012; University
of Wollongong, 2003)
. The PASS mentors are involved in recruiting, training,
mentoring, and evaluating PASS facilitators, as well as promoting PASS in their
university. For the purposes of this article, we refer to these three roles
respectively as PASS participants, facilitators, and mentors.
Research shows that PASS participants develop important academic and social
(Green, 2008; Dawson et al., 2014)
. This includes independent learning
skills, enhanced self-efficacy, and interpersonal skills
(Congos & Schoeps,
1993; Despotovic & Fisher, 2012; Martin & Hurley, 2005; Prebble et al., 2004;
, as well as a range of employment skills
(Chilvers & Waghorne,
2018; Carr et al., 2018)
Studies also show that peer facilitators develop important attributes such as
increased self-confidence, problem solving, teamwork, and
(Congos & Stout, 2003; Donelan & Wallace, 1997; Green, 2008;
Lockie & Van Lanen, 2008; Laurs, 2008, 2018; Micari, Streitwieser, & Light, 2006;
Skalicky & Caney, 2010; Stout & McDaniel, 2006)
The mentor role, with its leadership responsibilities, offers students further
opportunities to build the skills they developed as PASS facilitators
. Before our research, we had explicit anecdotal evidence from our
PASS mentors that they developed a range of graduate attributes, most notably
communication, critical thinking, and ethical responsibility, and this is
consistent with the broader literature about PASS. But what we did not know
was how being a mentor fostered these graduate attributes. This is the focus
of this paper.
To better understand the development of graduate attributes in PASS mentors,
we conducted a focus group and semi-structured interviews with 11 PASS
mentors about how they developed attributes as facilitators and then as
mentors. In the following sections, we first examine the background literature
about graduate attributes and how to foster them. We then detail the method
we employed in our study, and finally, we present our results and conclusions.
In recent years, higher education institutions have emphasised the fostering of
graduate attributes?particular attributes that all their graduates should
develop, regardless of their course of study. This new emphasis on graduate
attributes was initiated by the 1997 Dearing report and the 1999 European
(Barrie, 2007; Keeling, 2006; Spronken-Smith et al., 2013)
but it is also a response to growing pressure from various external
stakeholders and government bodies to produce ?work ready? graduates
(Barrie, 2006; Bridgstock, 2009; Hager & Holland, 2006; Green et al., 2009)
A variety of terms are used to describe and define ?graduate attributes,? such
as skills, qualities, and competencies, as well as personal characteristics,
values, or human qualities. These attributes are described as transferable,
generic, core, or key, and may be linked with employment or citizenship
(Barnett, 2012; Barrie, 2004, 2006; Cranmer, 2006; Green et al., 2009; Hager &
Holland, 2006; Muldoon, 2008; Laurs 2018)
The most common approach is to teach graduate attributes in a disciplinary
context by incorporating or embedding them within the curriculum
2004; Bath et al., 2004)
. However, it is generally agreed that embedding and
?teaching? graduate attributes within the curriculum is difficult and, due to
differences in courses, may not consistently foster all attributes for all
(Barrie, 2004, 2006; Bridgstock, 2009; Cranmer, 2006; Hager &
. For example, while students might easily develop the graduate
attributes of teamwork and leadership in a professional course, they might
have little opportunity in a more theoretical course, such as physics (Winch,
GRADUATE ATTRIBUTES FOSTERED THROUGH CO-CURRICULAR PEER LEARNING
Complementing the curricular approach, co-curricular peer learning and
support activities such as peer mentoring and Supplemental Instruction offer
the potential for a more consistent approach to fostering graduate attributes
for all students
(Jackling & McDowall, 2008; Laurs, 2008; Muldoon, 2008)
noted earlier, previous research into peer-assisted learning programmes
focussed predominantly on the academic benefits for participating students.
However, increasing research shows that when students act as peer facilitators,
they further develop and refine graduate attributes
(Congos & Stout, 2003;
Green, 2007; Donelan & Wallace, 1997; Micari et al., 2006; Stout & McDaniel,
2006; Muldoon, 2009; Laurs, 2018; Stracke & Kumar, 2014)
. For example, when
acting as peer facilitators, students developed graduate attributes such as
teamwork, communication, and leadership skills
(Jackling & McDowall, 2008;
Laurs, 2008; Skalicky & Caney, 2010)
, as well as empathy, patience,
selfefficacy, responsibility, and commitment
(Couchman, 2009; Laurs, 2008;
McPhail, Despotovic, & Fisher, 2012; Skalicky and Caney, 2010)
Despite this research on peer facilitators, there is little research on either
academic peer mentors or on the learning process by which peer leaders
develop graduate attributes. We conducted a case study to understand how
PASS mentorship led to the development of graduate attributes for PASS
mentors at our institution.
Our core research question was how do mentors think the mentorship
programme fostered the development of their graduate attributes?
Our research is a qualitative case study
(Yin, 2003; Harland, 2014)
graduate attributes developed by PASS mentors at the University of Otago. We
provide a rich, explanatory account to capture the complexity of this single
(Yin, 2003; Stake, 1995)
We used a focus group and interviews to ask students about their experiences
and probe further as necessary. The focus group was used initially so we could
identify particular issues and questions to explore (Kitzinger, 1994), and these
issues and questions were followed up in each of the subsequent individual
The interviews and focus group were conducted by the first and second author.
The first author was also the work supervisor for the PASS mentor participants,
and had spent at least a year developing an open and honest relationship with
the participants. Ethics approval was granted by the University of Otago.
We invited all PASS mentors from the University of Otago PASS programme
between 2012 and 2014. Because there were only four mentors per year, the
research needed to cover least three years to get sufficient data. Of the 12
possible participants, 11 agreed.
All mentors had at least one year?s experience as a PASS mentor. Most mentors
had been a student participant for a year in the PASS programme, and all had
been a facilitator for one to three years. They all started in PASS two to four
years prior to their promotion to mentor. One participant had not attended
PASS as a student but had been a facilitator in the programme for three years
before becoming a mentor in 2011. See Table 1 for more details about the
In our focus group and interviews, we started by introducing students to the
idea of graduate attributes and explained what these were. In the focus group,
we then had an open discussion to identify the questions that we would
address in the interviews. In the interviews, we asked the PASS mentors to
address these questions, which were
Did you develop attributes? Which ones?
Did you acquire new attributes or enhance existing attributes?
Which attributes did you feel you developed, acquired, or enhanced?
How did you develop these attributes?
Did the PASS programme contribute to this development? If so, how?
Did your role of PASS mentor contribute to this development? If so,
How much did your course of study at university contribute to this
The four PASS mentors from 2012 participated in a two-hour unstructured
focus group in the middle of that year to identify questions to discuss in
interviews, and then they participated in individual semi-structured interviews
about these questions at the end of the year. Then, the four mentors from 2013
participated in interviews, and in 2014, three of the four mentors from that
year participated in interviews. Each interview was approximately 60 minutes
long and was conducted towards the end of the academic year when the
participant was a PASS mentor. We followed the schedule of interview
questions as above, but when necessary, we also probed to expand and clarify
what the mentors were saying and to follow lines of discussion that illuminated
the mentors? experiences.
We took a general inductive approach for our data analysis, so we could allow
the findings of the study to emerge as recurrent themes in the raw data
. The first two authors read the transcripts of the data
separately and made notes about potential themes, and then they compared
their notes and found consensus about the major themes. There was a very
high level of agreement about themes from the first two authors because the
mentor participants tended to give explicit answers to the questions, which
fitted into obvious themes. For example, one mentor commented that being a
mentor forced them to improve their communication because they now had to
talk with many different students, facilitators, and academic staff. The first
two authors both categorised this into the theme of developing graduate
attributes because of the added responsibility of the mentor role.
Using this method of analysis, we identified the most common themes in the
transcripts where students were saying similar things about their attribute
development. We organised these various themes into four sub-sections for
ease of presentation in this article.
There were three graduate attributes that the mentors all agreed they had
developed, which we list using the descriptions from the Guidelines for
Teaching at Otago (2011):
COMMUNICATION: Ability to communicate information,
arguments, and analyses effectively, both orally and in writing.
CRITICAL THINKING: Ability to analyse issues logically; challenge
conventional assumptions; consider different options and
viewpoints; make informed decisions; and act with flexibility,
adaptability, and creativity.
ETHICS: Knowledge of ethics and ethical standards and an ability to
apply these with a sense of responsibility within the workplace and
We include all the themes related to how they developed these attributes in the
following sub-sections: communication in the first sub-section, critical
thinking into the second, and ethics in the third. In the fourth sub-section of
our findings, we discuss the overall process of developing graduate attributes.
Rather than include quotations from every participant in every theme, we have
selected quotations that depict the clearest articulation of a given theme.
FINDING 1: COMMUNICATION
All participants indicated that being a PASS facilitator and mentor was pivotal
in fostering and enhancing their communication skills. Several mentors stated
that they applied for the PASS facilitator role because they believed that it
would enhance their existing communication skills. Although their time as
facilitators had increased their confidence and skill in public speaking and
articulating ideas, participants emphasised that their communication skills
were enhanced in the mentor role. We highlight two main aspects of how PASS
mentors said they developed their communication: effective communication
and professional communication.
Participants indicated that they developed a ?range of communication skills?
(Participant 2) during their time in PASS. As facilitators, they learned to
communicate information in an accessible manner, break down difficult
concepts to assist understanding, and consider the diversity of their audience:
Something that I?ve really enjoyed is learning how to, kind of reword
questions if someone doesn?t quite get what you mean the first time.
You know, like keep breaking it down and making it more simple,
which I think is a fantastic skill to have, being able to, you know, really
make something understandable for someone who doesn?t get it.
Participants also developed their verbal communication skills so that they
could effectively organise and direct students, manage group dynamics, and
engage students in collaborative learning activities such as group learning,
discussion, and debate:
I think it?s just been great in terms of making me more comfortable in
front of a group of people and being able to manage a group of people
and get them all doing the same sort of [things], getting them doing
what I want them to be doing. (Participant 4)
It?s all about managing the dynamics, and it?s not just what you say.
It?s also how you say it and that kind of thing. (Participant 5)
However, participants also emphasised that their new role of PASS mentor,
with its broader scope, helped them to refine their communication even
further. Being a mentor gave them an expanded view of the PASS programme
and they realised that ?a whole different level? (Participant 1) of
communication was required. In particular, they emphasised that their role in
training, supporting, and debriefing the PASS facilitators contributed strongly
to their development of communication skills. The mentors said that because
they felt responsible to ensure that facilitators had the right information and
understood the PASS model, they developed better communication skills so
that they could fulfil this responsibility. They also felt that they had learned
ways to communicate that motivated and encouraged buy-in from the
facilitators. And, because the mentors had limited amounts of time in which to
give constructive and effective feedback on a facilitator?s practice, they learned
to communicate more efficiently:
Just being able to communicate with the facilitators, you know, at first
on a weekly basis and just try and get your ideas across in a meaningful
way where they accept what you say and really take something from it,
and I think being able to be concise, as well, and we get to meet with
them once every week?and then once a month?you?ve got to make
the most out of that one hour. (Participant 7)
The PASS mentors said that they developed formal or professional
communication skills because they had to form diverse working relationships,
such as liaising with ?lecturers and staff? (Participant 1). The mentors became
more aware of the need to communicate in a way that built relationships and
paved the way for positive dialogue. Similarly, they realised that how they
communicated would reflect on the programme, and this motivated them to
consider carefully their written and verbal communication with students and
staff, and to develop diplomacy skills and a professional communication style:
Someone emailed me?I had to sit down for a bit and make a carefully
crafted reply to it in case we get on the wrong side. Now that is an
opportunity for development itself and also made me recognise that?I
need to do it better in terms of generating the diplomatic response
more quickly, and that?s made me think a great deal about how I would
respond if something similar were to happen again. (Participant 5)
Learning how to build relationships?for the better of everyone.
Learning how to write emails and stuff like that?.You just kind of learn
how to word things so that it comes across nicely and, you know, you
don?t get on the wrong side straight away. (Participant 1)
When asked whether they felt these skills were transferable, mentors
commented that they were also more confident in dealing with their own
That?s kind of how I first contact[ed] my supervisor?to say, ?I?ve seen
in your profile that you?re interested in this area. I am, too. May I talk
to you about this to discuss options?? Umm, I think I would have been
a bit too scared to do that to start off with, actually, if I hadn?t have
gone through the PASS programme and, like, I didn?t even know how
to, where to start or anything with writing something like that.
FINDING 2: CRITICAL THINKING
The participating PASS mentors strongly indicated that they developed critical
thinking as a result of their role in PASS. We discuss the three main aspects of
how PASS mentors developed critical thinking, each of which is interrelated
with the others.
Analyse, evaluate, and make complex judgements
Participants reported strengthening their analytical skills. They felt better
equipped to analyse issues logically and to make careful and complex informed
judgements. Although they thought they developed some critical thinking
skills as PASS facilitators, they thought the mentor role required a deeper level
of thinking. They now had to ensure the most appropriate and effective
decisions were made to support the facilitators and enhance the quality and
integrity of the whole programme:
To do my job well, I have to reflect and I have to know more about how
things work?critical thinking, that?s been helped a lot by being a
mentor?not just taking everything for granted?going a bit deeper and
thinking about why things work. (Participant 4)
In particular, mentors felt their role ?in the training of the leaders and?the
selection of the PASS facilitators? had made them ?a bit more analytical?
(Participant 3). They also felt that the added responsibility of assisting with
quality assurance of the programme and observing sessions and facilitator
practice encouraged them to critique, reflect, and question so they could make
Are they a really good PASS facilitator? Particularly if you?re looking
for, for new mentors in the future?what is it that they?re bringing to
[PASS]? (Participant 3)
Flexibility and seeing multiple perspectives
PASS mentors also reported an enhanced ability to consider different options
and viewpoints, and to act with flexibility by ?continually adapting and
changing?trying to do things in a creative way? (Participant 3). They attributed
this development to moving their focus from the narrow perspective of
facilitating their individual PASS sessions to the broader perspective of the
mentor role, focussing on the quality and integrity of the whole programme.
In particular the mentors noted that assisting with the training and support of
facilitators outside their own area of study exposed them to alternative
viewpoints and ideas, which challenged their opinions, perspectives, and
actions. As a result, they reported a change in their thinking, realising there
was not one ?right way? to approach learning. As one mentor commented,
As a mentor, hearing the problems that [the facilitators have] been
facing and trying to help with problem solving?it?s really challenged
me, too?reshaping my thinking?just because it?s worked for me this
way, doesn?t mean it?s going to work for someone else. (Participant 1)
Mentors also felt that they became progressively more flexible as their
responsibilities increased. As facilitators, they had learned to adapt or change
their plans ?on the fly? according to student needs or preferences. However, as
mentors, they felt they became more flexible, adaptable, and creative because
they had to continually find ways to encourage and support a diverse range of
facilitators and disciplines:
I?ve tended to be continually adapting and changing?to try and think
of some way to do it?in a creative fashion. (Participant 3)
Reflection and evaluation
The third main aspect of critical thinking developed by the PASS mentors was
reflection and improving their practice as facilitators and mentors.
It was hardly surprising that PASS mentors reported the development of
reflection because this is explicitly encouraged in our PASS programme.
Facilitators are required to complete a weekly reflection form about their
facilitation. This is designed to help facilitators improve their practice,
encourage them to think more broadly, and to challenge their own ideas about
However, it was when they became mentors that the participants most strongly
developed the ability to reflect. Some mentors acknowledged that ?as a
firstyear facilitator?I never really thought about why things did work.? (Participant
4) Most admitted completing reflections only because it was a requirement of
the job. However, as they moved into the mentor role, they realised the true
value of reflection:
I was sharing my experiences with others. I had to think about, you
know, why things were working and?weren?t working and whether
they?might work in a different situation. (Participant 4)
Once again, it appears that it was the increased responsibilities of the mentor
role, and a broadened view of the PASS programme, that led to this strong
development of reflection. The reflection process became more important
because the PASS mentors were responsible for the other facilitators and for
the whole programme. As one participant commented,
I don?t think I did it as much when I was a facilitator because?I just
kind of would take it as it came. Whereas being a mentor and actually
telling people what works and what doesn?t, you need to?think about
why things worked and, and why they didn?t?.To do my job well, I have
to reflect, and I have to know more about how things work. (Participant
Learning to reflect on their assignment results and the feedback received from
markers made a difference in how the mentors approached their studies. They
were able to better understand where the marker ?was coming from?
(Participant 1), leading them to more easily find ways to improve:
PASS teaches?to go back over the work I?ve done?to check what the
lecturer said was good and to reflect on how I did that essay in order
to help me move forward?.I?ve always had a tendency to, to write long
sentences and long paragraphs and just keep writing and adding
words?and it?s only through reflection on how I?ve been writing that I
realise that, actually, you?ve got to be shorter and more concise with
how you write?.That?s some of the skills I learnt in PASS, to reflect on
things. (Participant 3)
The mentors also saw reflection as a transferable skill that could give them an
advantage in the workplace:
I?ve learnt the value of reflecting, and I think that that?s going to be a
really important?I think it?s going to be something that I?ll have over
a lot of others?as with a situation where something doesn?t go to plan.
I will be able to reflect on it and?probably pinpoint why. Whereas
someone who hasn?t done a lot of reflecting or doesn?t know how to
reflect won?t be able to. (Participant 4)
FINDING 3: ETHICS AND RESPONSIBILITY
The participating PASS mentors indicated they developed a greater awareness
of ethical behaviour and a broader sense of responsibility as a result of their
role in PASS. For several of the mentors, the broader scope of the mentor role
within the PASS team meant the ?responsibility?s got bigger? (Participant 1).
Mentors spoke of a greater awareness of the needs of others and ?learning
that?you do have to step up to the game sometimes.? (Participant 1)
When they were a facilitator, their role was narrowly focussed on producing
quality PASS sessions for their students. But as a mentor, their role expanded
to include tasks such as training, mentoring, and evaluating PASS facilitators,
and promoting the programme to the university, and so they experienced
I think you?ve got that sort of accountability, just making sure the
programme runs.?I feel like if something?s going wrong, it?s on us?so
we have a responsibility to make sure that things run efficiently and
that we make an environment that helps the facilitators?because if
they?re having an easier time and they?re enjoying the work, then the
sessions are going to be better.?Starts at the top, really, and it sort of
trickles down. So if we?re running inefficiently, there?ll be a breakdown
in teamwork?.If there?s no accountability, then the programme
suffers. (Participant 7)
This heightened sense of responsibility led some mentors to a greater ethical
awareness in general that ?you?re not the only one in the world.? (Participant
Working with people teaches you?how you should function as an
ethical human being?and PASS teaches [that]. (Participant 3)
FINDING 4: AUTHENTIC TASKS AND ROUNDEDNESS
Our findings suggest that an effective way to develop graduate attributes is to
involve students in tasks that they see as authentic or real work, where they
have genuine responsibility, such as being a PASS mentor. As PASS mentors,
they were employed in real work, or a ?real job?a real-life opportunity to
practice? (Participant 6), rather than completing a contrived assignment or
project, and they worked with university staff as fellow professionals, not in
the teacher?student relationship. This sort of work environment seemed to be
more effective for developing graduate attributes than the artificial or
simulated tasks often involved in the curriculum. Participants said that
because of their ?responsibility within the workplace? and ?accountability,?
(Participant 7) they learned ?a whole lot of things that?just study doesn?t
teach.? (Participant 3)
The mentors also said that they felt like a ?more rounded person?more
complete? (Participant 7) as a result of their experience in the PASS programme.
They felt they developed a variety of interwoven attributes?academic,
personal, and professional?and the ability to apply these in real-life
situations. They also thought that it was impossible to get this sense of
roundedness from study alone:
I don?t think you can be rounded just from doing study. In fact, you
can?t be?when you spend all your time doing academic study, you
can?t get this rounded character. You need extra-curricular activities,
and PASS is an amazing extra-curricular activity for getting you to learn
things like these skills. (Participant 3)
Because of this sense of roundedness, participants also saw all the graduate
attributes they developed as an interwoven whole. Whenever we tried to talk
about one attribute with participants, they would quickly link this with other
attributes, because they were not developed in isolation. For example, they
reported that in order to fulfil their ethical responsibility towards their
students, they had to develop their communication, and in order to
communicate more clearly, they also had to develop critical thinking.
This sense of roundedness also made them feel they were more employable
than their less rounded peers. They said that they had developed a range of
useful skill and attributes as a PASS mentor and this meant they ?had an
advantage over others in my class? and this ?will make me a better employee
than others.? (Participant 4)
That whole variety of skills that I wouldn?t have had otherwise on
leadership?working with group dynamics?reflection for myself, on
understanding how other people operate, all the things like that that
have rounded me out as a person, as well, and that?s all things that I
would use in the future, and if you?re justifying it in the job market,
then I would try and communicate that sort of stuff to, to someone
who?s employing, looking at employing me. (Participant 3)
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
We drew four main conclusions about the way PASS mentors developed
graduate attributes because of their PASS mentor role. First, having students
working as a mentor in PASS can be an effective way to develop the specific
graduate attributes of an institution. Although we discussed only three
attributes in this article, the PASS mentors in our study believed they had
developed most of the graduate attributes stated in the graduate profile of our
university. This extends the literature that shows that being a PASS facilitator
is an effective way to develop graduate attributes
(Laurs, 2008, 2018; Skalicky
& Caney, 2010)
Second, our study also stresses the importance of co-curricular activities such
as PASS for developing graduate attributes. The participants saw PASS as the
main contributor to the development of their graduate attributes. While they
acknowledged that they occasionally encountered opportunities for the
development of graduate attributes through their curricular studies, they all
felt that PASS offered greater opportunities. Some pointed to large gaps in their
curricular studies (e.g., lack of ethics) while others perceived that their
involvement in co-curricular activities enhanced or strengthened what they
might be learning elsewhere (e.g., critical thinking and communication). This
conclusion is consistent with other studies that argue the importance of
cocurricular activities for fostering graduate attributes
(Jackling & McDowall,
2008; Laurs, 2008; Muldoon, 2008)
, and it extends them by giving specific
examples of how these attributes are developed in this particular case study.
Third, the mentor role seems to be a particularly effective co-curricular activity
for developing graduate attributes. Offering leadership roles in co-curricular
programmes such as PASS can make a significant contribution to the
development of graduate attributes in our institutions
(Laurs, 2008; Skalicky &
. The leadership roles within PASS, such as PASS mentor, provide
a better opportunity to foster graduate attributes than other roles in PASS. The
PASS mentors had an expanded role and increased responsibilities, and this
role required them to use their skills in broader and more sophisticated ways,
and thus, they developed a fuller and more rounded expression of the graduate
attributes. This conclusion confirms the existence of a leadership pathway
from PASS student to facilitator to mentor that Skalicky & Caney (2010) have
suggested, and it shows one implication of this progression: higher leadership
leads to increased learning benefits. This conclusion also has important
implications for the training and professional development for PASS leaders.
We suggest that it would be beneficial to explicitly align PASS leadership
training and professional development opportunities to the graduate profile of
Fourth, authentic work environments, such as the PASS mentor role, seem to
be particularly effective for fostering graduate attributes. Such roles require
greater responsibility, and this seems to be an excellent catalyst for developing
graduate attributes. This conclusion mirrors what researchers have found
when investigating other work-based learning experiences such as work
experience, internships, and placements. There are significant learning
benefits for students when they are doing real jobs with real responsibilities
(Simons et al., 2012; Kettis et al., 2013; Forsyth & Cowap, 2017)
A possible limitation of this research is that we did not investigate participants?
attributes prior to their role in PASS. In fact, it could be argued that the
students were employed for PASS roles because they already possessed
welldeveloped skills and personal attributes. However, all participants identified
improvements in the skills, attributes, and personal qualities that they
possessed prior to PASS, and it is this improvement of graduate attributes that
we studied. Other studies have also noted that PASS participants have a similar
improvement in already existing graduate attributes
(e.g., Laurs, 2008; Skalicky
& Caney, 2010)
A second potential limitation is that the first author was the work supervisor
for the PASS mentors, so it is possible that this might have influenced
participants to portray the programme in an overly positive light. However, we
do not see this as a major limitation for several reasons:
First, we ensured the participants felt safe to give any response without
consequences. We explained that we were interested in understanding the
process by which they learned graduate attributes while as a PASS mentor and
that there were no right or wrong answers. The interviews were also conducted
at the end of their term as PASS mentors after the working relationship had
Second, mentors were required to give constructive criticism about the entire
PASS programme as part of their role, and they were very experienced at this.
They had already demonstrated that they could offer negative comments and
were not compelled to ?tell us what we wanted to hear.?
Third, we felt the relationship between the first author and mentors was well
established, so the mentors had sufficient confidence to express their opinions
in an honest manner. In fact, we consider the close relationship between the
first author and the participants to be a strength of the study that outweighs
the potential limitations. Our aim was to dig deeply into the learning process
of participants, and having one interviewer who had already developed an open
and honest relationship with participants was an advantage for this.
The third potential limitation is the sample size. Eleven participants is a small
number, and we must be cautious about generalisations. However, our aim was
to present an explanatory case study, not to make generalisations, and we do
include almost the entire population of PASS mentors over four years at our
The fourth limitation is that we were studying only what participants reported
about the development of their attributes. Further study might involve direct
observation to see whether and to what extent the PASS mentors were better
communicators or critical thinkers.
Despite the limitations, this study suggests that not only can co-curricular
activities like PASS foster graduate attributes, but they also offer institutions a
complementary approach to producing well-rounded graduates. The
participants in this study doubted whether a university degree alone could
enable the development of all of the attributes listed in our institution?s
graduate profile. They were in agreement that their roles as PASS facilitators
and mentors had been the main contributors to the development of their
attributes. They felt that their experiences had given them an advantage over
other students who had not been PASS facilitators or mentors, and that PASS
had made them more employable and better prepared for their transition into
Our findings suggest that one way of fostering graduate attributes is by having
students participate in the authentic work of PASS mentoring. But this is not a
feasible method for fostering graduate attributes for all students because not
all students will be able to participate as PASS mentors. However, we also
suggest that our findings can inform other, more scalable, methods of
fostering graduate attributes. For example, students may be more likely to
develop graduate attributes if their assessments involved authentic or
realworld tasks, or if they were required to engage in co-curricular or even
extracurricular volunteering. Another alternative for fostering graduate attributes
based on our findings might be to develop a new programme of co-curricular
peer mentoring, such as senior students peer reviewing the assignments of
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