Peer Mentoring Programme
International students often have a difficult time integrating within social circles in their first year of University and feel as if they are unprepared for everyday tasks (McMahon, 2011). Academic mentoring and networking events exist in many institutions, however they do not seem to be as effective as one-to-one mentoring. Our project proposed a Peer Mentoring Programme which seeks to offer a full range of services to students, from first years to recent graduates and alumni.
Problems faced by international students
International Students have a hard time making friends with home students and connect in a meaningful way
Handling finances, such as housing, tuition fees and the cost of living can be challenging
Often students coming to the UK to study face difficulties understanding the healthcare system and other such systems
Many international students do not know what work opportunities they will have
We decided upon proceeding with this subject after doing extensive research into students’ experiences at University. These experiences are not always great, with studies and reviews suggesting that one of the biggest issues, especially for international students, is the lack of contact with home students. Moreover, going to University is a huge change regardless of background. Our prototype wants to better prepare students for University and during their time there, not only academically, but socially and career wise.
In order to do that, we centred our design on 3 main functions: Matching, Community and Events. We also proposed two roles the students can take: mentors or mentees. Those with more experience can become mentors and those just starting out can be mentored.
At this stage, each function would serve a clear purpose and work to solve a particular problem. Our matching function seeks to overcome compatibility issues between mentors and mentees and offers one-on-one sessions for better engagement. The community hub presents general information, interesting topics and provides a communal space for students to engage. Also, the events page will supply students with events that are career oriented.
We reviewed two platforms as main competitive products and analysed their functions in order to observe how they solve similar problems.
Aston University created the Peer Mentoring section to help students deal with the various challenges they may face and they offer different mentoring schemes according to students’ requirements. The whole scheme used matching system to arrange only one suitable mentor for a mentee. However, mentors can only be assigned by Learner Enhancement Team rather than following the wishes lists of the students.
UKCISA offered a platform to all international students where they can obtain a variety of information through the website, but it is inevitable that this broad information cannot answer all problems students have. Since students can only ask questions through social media or phone call, the line is always very busy before 3pm on workdays.
In order to know what kind of difficulties students always meet with, and whether these problems are urgent, students were interviewed with an 8 question outline. From the eight respondents seven are students who came to London less than four months ago, and one is an alumni. These are the questions used in the interview.
How long have you been in London?
What was your feeling when you first came to London?
What difficulties you were met with when you first arrived in London?
How did you solve these problems?
Are these problems urgent?
What kind of problems do you still feel confused/ worried about?
If you still have questions, who do you want to ask for help? (For mentee)
If there is an opportunity that can help other students and is good for your CV, would you want to try it? (For mentor)
The interview’s results show that most of the new students faced problems related to social acclimatisation when they first came to a foreign country. Two of participants had financial issues, and two of them were met with renting problems and transportation problems. Nearly all of them thought communication to be an obstacle. Among these issues, only one student said a few of them are urgent, which means that there is a great need for helping them. The one student who has already graduated from school asserted that he is not satisfied with his current occupation and is looking for a side job to earn money.
User journey and Personas
The following Journey map illustrates one user’s itinerary by summarizing the interview problems when studying abroad. The map is divided in three parts, before studying abroad - during studying abroad - and after graduation. The map considers the aspects of doing, thinking, opportunities and feeling. Following the interview, two personas were also generated for mentors and mentees.
Fresh International Student
Major: MA Art
Location: London, UK
1. Want to know about living
2. Need some counselling
3. Socially awkward, but is looking
forward to studying abroad
Seniors close to graduation
Major: MA Art Design
Location: London, UK
1. Sharing his own experiences
2. Help people and get something in return
3. Exercise his communication skills
4. Provide help to young students
After research and analysis, this project firstly addresses a range of issues related to life and studies experienced by new students arriving in the UK. Secondly it addresses information related to the study abroad community (including information about the experience of applying to schools and finding a job after graduation).
The design is divided into three modules, the first of which provides a one-to-one matching function to offer the students who need it exclusive help. The second part provides a forum where users with problems can post their issues and others can help. Additionally, such posts can be shared in the forum to efficiently help people with the same problem.
The third section offers regular offline events. There are two types of offline events, the first is aimed at the tutor community and offers tutors the opportunity to meet new people and share their work experience at the same time. This feature resembles the structure of a company team building event. The second part is aimed at all University students and gives them the opportunity to meet new people.
After defining the functional modules, this phase focused on the relationship between the functionality and the interface. A paper-based low-fidelity prototype was created and tested with target users. After analysing the testing process, the "ME" module was added to the design because users needed to check their calendar availability when they wanted to book an appointment with a tutor.
Also, active users in the forum needed to add personal favourites, likes, posts, answers to questions, etc. In addition, HOME and MATCHING have been merged into one module. As this is a feature of the project, users will be able to get a quick overview of this module when they first start using the software.
The Peer Mentoring Programme seeks to solve issues previously encountered in similar schemes through a clear, well-thought framework that will result in better cultural, social and academic adaptation of international students. In order to reach our target, we have identified our stakeholders and potential users, as well as any issues we have encountered in other frameworks, as well as our own.
We have analysed competitive applications and platforms, which allowed us to proceed with our initial development for our peer mentoring programme. Interviews and usability tests provided great insight into what students truly want and helped us design with our users’ interests in mind. We appraised suitable technologies for our main functions and used all the aforementioned information to provide the best possible experience for University students who wish to engage in a more meaningful way during their university stay, both socially and academically.
How can the matching function be improved?
How can we be more sensible to cultural differences?
How do we better assess the mentor's capabilities?
How do we ensure the privacy of our users within the University context?
There are still some problems that need to be solved or reconsidered:
We solved cultural problems in the preferences part, where mentees can have different choices before matching with mentors. For example, they can choose mentors who come from the same countries. In addition, some dietary habits can somehow reflect users’ religion without of asking them about their faith directly. This provides a sensible method of inquiry for personal information without being invasive.
In order to avoid the issue of strangers, entering the platform, users will only have access through institutional authorization before using this function.
3. Mentors Ability Assessment:
Life mentors: Checking the staying time in this country.
Academic mentors: GPA of the assignments, 200 words introduction
Career mentors: The proof of the employment, 200 words introduction
All mentors will be assessed by mentees after the consultations. The mark is set from 0-5 points, and the average will be final mark to mentors.
4. Reward System:
Mentors will get certification for their contribution, and this experience will provide a good impression on their CV, which will be good for job-seeking. In addition, excellent mentors will benefit from attending the offline events, thus gaining commission by sharing their experience with new students.