Peer helpers’ construction of their role in an open distance-learning institution
Background. The University of South Africa (UNISA) offers educational programmes through distance learning. Because of the institution’s elasticity and character, the UNISA Peer Help Volunteer Programme was developed to extend support to students, to disseminate educational information to schools and the surrounding communities and to engender personal and professional growth of peer helpers.
Objectives. To explore the modalities used by peer helpers to construct their roles as sources of support at the university.
Methods. A qualitative approach was used, underpinned by the social constructionist paradigm as an epistemological position. The sample consisted of 6 peer helpers. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results. Three themes were identified, i.e. peers as distributors of information, the peer-help role as an opportunity to integrate theory and practice and the peer-help role as a personal eye-opener.
Conclusion. The findings showed that peer helpers understand the challenges faced by other students and the institutional character of the university and were able to use their experiences in conjunction with available resources to assist their fellow students and to reach out to disseminate educational information to communities.