Learning from each other: Creating a scholarly community of practice through peer tutoring

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In this post, Sharon Boyd and Jessie Paterson, lecturers at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (R(D)SVS), reflect on their experiences of working in partnership with postgraduate peer tutors…

Since 2013, online postgraduate taught MSc students at the R(D)SVS have had the opportunity to take on the role of online peer tutors. We based the peer tutor role on the successful peer-assisted learning scheme (VetPALS) at the vet school, where students provide academic skills support to students at an earlier point in their studies. This works particularly well for postgraduate online students, who are usually studying over a period of three to six years.

As part of the role, postgraduate peer tutors can work towards their Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA), in a similar way to the Undergraduate Certificate in Veterinary Medical Education.

We have found working with the peer tutors inspirational in our own scholarship of teaching and learning. All of the peer tutors are professionals, returning to study with a view to developing their careers. Those that have chosen to undertake their AFHEA are doing so in addition to studying and working, in most cases full-time. As they are participating at a distance, our discussions are usually text-based (email or discussion board) with some real-time catch-ups via Blackboard Collaborate/Skype. As we work together closely, we are able to build a relationship where we can support each other in our teaching and learning practice.

We described this relationship as a scholarly community of practice (Boyd et al., 2016), though this is perhaps better defined as a “community of enquiry” (Bozalek et al., 2017). Strong relationships and opportunities to discuss our teaching and reflect on our learning together is key. Each new intake of tutors brings with them a new set of experiences and different goals, which can often take us all into new areas of research. The act of applying for fellowship, working within our small community, helps us all to enhance our skills with the support of our group.

Our role as staff is not as “disciplinary content experts” (Bovill et al., 2016) but as scholarly partners, or “collegial contributors” (Marquis et al., 2016). The process of sharing teaching experiences, investigating the literature, discussing our findings and planning for the future has given us all a deeper understanding of learning and teaching.

This project was set up thanks to devolved funding from the Institute for Academic Development (IAD), specifically focused on supporting postgraduate taught students.


Boyd, S., Black, Y., Couch, S., Athinodorou, A., & Paterson, J. (2016). ‘We learn from each other’: Creating a scholarly community of practice through peer tutoring. Educational Developments, 17(3), 28-30.

Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Millard, L., & Moore-Cherry, N. (2016). Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms and ensuring inclusivity in student–staff partnerships. Higher Education, 71(2), 195-208. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9896-4

Bozalek, V., Dison, A., Alperstein, M., & Mitchell, V. (2017). Developing Scholarship of Teaching and Learning through a community of enquiry. Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL), 5(2), 1-15. http://cristal.ac.za/index.php/cristal/article/view/106

Marquis, E., Puri, V., Wan, S., Ahmad, A., Goff, L., Knorr, K., Vassileva, I., & Woo, J. (2016). Navigating the threshold of student–staff partnerships: A case study from an Ontario teaching and learning institute. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 4-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2015.1113538

Sharon Boyd

Sharon is a Lecturer in Distance Student Learning at the R(D)SVS, with a focus on enhancing online distance learning student support. She is director of the postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, deputy director for the MVetSci in Advanced Clinical Practice, and course leader for Professional & Clinical Skills online postgraduate course. Her research areas are in sustainable and digital education, and she is currently working on a part-time PhD at the Moray House School of Education. She completed an IAD secondment in 2015 looking at sustainable veterinary medical education.

Jessie Paterson

Dr Jessie Paterson, Lecturer in Student Learning, R(S)SVS. Jessie is involved in the Professional Skills teaching as well as student support. Her main focus is around academic support and leads the School’s Study Skills Team but she also has a strong interest in student wellbeing. She also leads on the Schools VetPALs scheme and other student-led activities.

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