This paper describes a collaborative action research study in which peer assisted learning was deployed simultaneously across a range of disciplines in two institutes of technology in Ireland.

The aim of the research was to determine if peer assisted learning enhances the learning experience of first year participants. An action research approach was selected and involved three phases between 2009 and 2011. The implementation of each phase was informed by a review of the previous phase. The third phase also incorporated the rollout and evaluation of a new peer assisted learning student leadership module (an elective 5 ECTs European Credit and Accumulation Transfer System) in both institutes.

This paper focuses on both quantitative and qualitative data from the first year experience student survey, which was designed and deployed in phase one and repeated in phase two. The survey is supplemented by data from focus groups with student leaders and session reviews. Qualitative data was analysed using both the constant comparison method and text analysis.

Our findings illustrate the challenges associated with implementing and embedding a long-term peer assisted learning program as part of the first year student experience. In addition, we found wide ranging benefits for the two institutes of technology that collaborated on the development, rollout, and evaluation of the program. An evidence based model emerged, which involved a partnership between management, academic staff, student services, and learning and teaching advocates. These partners continue to work together to sustain the program.