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Helping peers study better lands UTSC student top international award

Feras Shamoun recently won an international award for his work in Facilitated Study Groups:

A desire to give back has landed Feras Shamoun an international award for his work in helping fellow University of Toronto Scarborough students succeed.

For the last three years, Shamoun, 22, has been part of a UTSC program called Facilitated Study Groups (FSGs) in which undergrad students facilitate support sessions for courses that are challenging for fellow students. He got involved after he found the resource useful in his first year of the Human Biology Specialist program.

“These people really helped me and I wanted to push the message,” says Shamoun, who graduates in June.

The program uses an alternative learning model that features peer-to-peer learning. Student facilitators like Shamoun attend all lecture hours in a particular course so that they can see and hear what the professor is teaching. Then, they prepare for and facilitate matching numbers of session hours in which they help students in that course work together to better understand the material.

“We show them how to pick out information, how to solve problems, how to fill gaps in their knowledge and where to look for it when they’re stuck somewhere,” says Shamoun. “It’s mostly about teaching them to learn from each other. We’re just there to catalyze this process.”

Cindy Bongard, peer facilitation strategist with the Centre for Teaching and Learning, says the program delivered more than 20,000 hours with students this past academic year and had a significant impact on the students’ grades and course retention.

Bongard was so impressed with Shamoun’s facilitation skills that she nominated him for the Award of Excellence from the International Centre for Supplemental Instruction at the University of Missouri Kansas City.

“I believe him to be exceptionally dedicated facilitator,” she says. “We never expected a win because it was an international competition and FSGs are relatively new in Canada, as the program was developed in the USA in the 1960s. We are thrilled with his win.”

Shamoun says that one of the biggest hurdles for new students is that they are shy and afraid of making a mistake. So, the facilitators emphasize that they are just peers who are there to support the learning process.

“We’re just students like them who’ve taken the course a year or two earlier, and we try to create a safe, friendly environment for them to make mistakes in,” he says. “I often tell them: Make a mistake here, don’t make it in the mid-term or the final.

“If they make a mistake here, they will remember how they solved the problem.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough