The impact of cross-year peer tutoring on developing a culture of excellence in an undergraduate computing programme

Andrew K Lui, Maria H M Poon, H W Go, Vanessa S C Ng and Terri W Y Wong
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

A major challenge for the computing programme at the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) is to overcome the prevalent perplexity among first-year students about studying computing. Each year, a number of secondary school leavers are admitted into the computing programme that is not their true preferred choice. Many of them are low-achieving students who consider the computing programme as a pragmatic last choice in the Joint University Programme Admission System. They are ill-prepared academically and emotionally for the rigours of studying computing, and there are doubts about their ability to progress in the programme without a good background in science and mathematics. Also, the more able students are often misinformed about careers in computing and are not motivated to study hard.

Within this context, a cross-year peer-tutoring scheme is believed to be a valuable approach for raising the standard in both these sets of students. The students in need of tutoring can receive attention sooner with peer tutors providing additional help in tutorial and laboratory classes. The presence of peer tutors in the classes enables significantly more interactions between students in different cohorts. Peer tutors’ similar background and learning journey can inform and motivate the first-year students; and their excellent academic and teaching abilities can also inspire the better first-year students. Peer tutors also benefit from this experience and enhance their academic abilities.

The cross-year peer-tutoring scheme has been running in the full-time face-to-face computing programmes at the OUHK for the past five years. At the beginning of each academic year, a number of final-year students are recruited on a competitive basis to play the role of peer tutors under the supervision of full-time academics in junior year laboratory sessions. They are also recognized as student leaders who are providing guidance to junior students. The merits of peer tutoring are well established in the literature, such as improving academic performance in tutees, facilitating soft-skills development in tutors (Falchikov 2001) and building a sense of belonging (Glaser, Hall and Halperin 2006).

The aim of this project is to study peer tutors as role models of excellence in a cross-year peer-tutoring scheme. The project focuses on whether peer tutors can exemplify, in words and actions, a level of high academic achievement in the computing discipline due to hard work. The study uses a hybrid design that draws out the multi-aspect nature of the role model they play.

The first part of the study investigated the academic development of peer tutors, which included an interview with them to explore their individual learning journey, supplemented with a cross -sectional study of their self-efficacy at the time of appointment. To evaluate the continued development through peer tutoring, a longitudinal study (pre-post tests) of the self-efficacy and meta-cognitive abilities of the peer tutors was carried out, with the other final year students as the control group.

The second part of the research looked at whether peer tutoring can promote positive motivational interactions for first-year students. It included collecting statistics on tutoring activities in classes, the amount and nature of interactions within the computing programme, and a cross-sectional descriptive study of first-year students’ perceptions of peer tutoring, supplemented by interviews to explore how peer tutors are possibly inspired by their own peer tutors.

The study has collected an abundance of first-hand data for a better understanding of the benefits of a cross-year tutoring scheme to overcome the common worries students have in undergraduate computing programmes in Hong Kong. It was found that peer tutors were perceived as role models for both average and better students. Some junior students displayed admiration for the peer tutorship and even talked about their aspiration to become a peer tutor one day. Cross-year peer tutoring can be regarded as a key process that passes on the desire for achievement and excellence from one cohort to the next.


Falchikov, N. (2001). Learning together: Peer tutoring in higher education. New York: RoutledgeFarmer.

Glaser, N., Hall, R., & Halperin, S. (2006). Students supporting students: The effects of peer mentoring on the experiences of first year university students. Journal of the Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association, 27, 4–19.