Communities of practice for international students: an exploration of the role of Peer Assisted Study Sessions in supporting transition and learning in Higher Education

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There is growing interest in understanding how international students can best be enabled to adjust to, participate in and learn within Higher Education (HE). This paper explores literature and examines findings from exploratory interviews in a UK institution in order to investigate the contribution the Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) scheme makes to this process. An earlier study used interviews with international students to generate data; findings related to engagement with a learning community. This current study rescrutinised that data using Lave and Wenger’s (1991) social-learning model, Communities of Practice (CoP), as a conceptual lens, and findings were built upon through further interviews. Themes of community, practice and participation were used to explore and understand the role of PASS in supporting international students’ transition and learning in HE. Findings illuminated the role of PASS in providing international students with an intermediary CoP, providing support in their transition into the CoP on their course and university life. PASS facilitated their social integration with students of other nationalities, developing relationships with peers and PASS leaders, contributing to an increased sense of belonging to a community. Through the mutual engagement of attendees and leaders, students developed shared language, values and practices relating to their discipline and studying in UK HE. Established PASS leaders shared experiences of first year with ‘newcomer’ international students, supporting their transition into UK HE culture and enabling their legitimate peripheral participation to develop more fully. Participation in PASS fostered students’ engagement with learning activities and independent study habits. Limitations to the study and suggestions for further research will also be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Learning Development in Higher Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2016


Bibliographical note

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  • Communities of practice
  • international students
  • peer assisted learning
  • learning communities
  • participation
  • adjustment
  • transition.

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