Communities of practice for international students: An exploration of the role of Peer Assisted Study Sessions in supporting transition and learning in higher education

Lucy Chilvers


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.

Interviews with international students were analysed using Lave and Wengerââ¬â¢s (1991) social-learning model, Communities of Practice (CoP), for exploring the role of PASS in supporting international studentsââ¬â¢ transition and learning in HE. Using themes of community, practice and participation, findings illuminated the role of PASS in providing international students with an intermediary CoP, providing transition support 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 first year experiences with ââ¬Ënewcomerââ¬â¢ international students, supporting their transition into UK HE culture and enabling their legitimate peripheral participation to develop further. Participation in PASS fostered studentsââ¬â¢ engagement with learning activities and independent study habits. Limitations to the study and suggestions for further research are discussed.


communities of practice; international students; peer assisted learning; learning communities; participation; adjustment; transition

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ISSN: 1759-667X