A Reflection on the Two-year Progress of Peer Advisor-led Events for Promoting Collaboration among Students

Yusei Takahashi, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan 
Rio Fukumura, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan 

Takahashi, Y. & Fukumura, R. (2021). A reflection on the two-year progress of peer advisor-led events for promoting collaboration among students. Relay Journal, 4(1), 31-40. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/040105

[Download paginated PDF version]

*This page reflects the original version of this document. Please see PDF for most recent and updated version.


The authors work in the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC) at our university as student staff. Specifically, our role is as Peer Advisors (PAs), and we have supported students by having advising sessions and events related to self-directed learning. In this article, we focus on an event that PAs have organized for two years and reflect on the progress. In particular, differences between the physical and online versions of the event are mainly discussed in terms of the number of participants, topics for each session and the method for event promotion. At the end of the article, each of our personal reflections is introduced.

Basic Information About Peer Advisors and TACO Events 

We are working in the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC) at our university as student staff, and our role is called “Peer Advisors” (PAs). Our job is to help peers by having advising sessions and organizing some events related to university life including language learning. We have been trained by SALC Learning Advisors (LAs) to be qualified as PAs. The SALC website describes PAs as follows: 

SALC peer advisors are students like you who have been trained to help you with matters related to school life and study. […]. We try to help you to solve your problems together as a student. For example, how to learn English, how to study for TOEFL/TOEIC, about course (class) registration, or practicing conversation in English at the Yellow Sofas. You can discuss whatever you want. You can choose the language: English or Japanese. (retrieved from kuis8.com) 

An event named “TACO” is one example of the PAs’ regular duties. The event’s full name is “Talking Activity and Collaborate with Others.” Thus, the concept is to promote collaboration with other students through friendly conversations and activities. The reason why we started TACO is that PAs wanted to promote an “English Speaking Practice Area” in the SALC, also known as “ESPA,” and aimed to build a new type of event focusing more on collaboration among students. The ESPA is a space where students can use both English and Japanese to improve their English skills. However, students did not use this area frequently, so we PAs helped to promote the ESPA by having a bilingual event. Moreover, advertising the PAs system is one of the motivators to maintain TACO events. TACO is a monthly event, and we set a specific topic for each session. We usually talk about self-directed learning, for example, how to keep motivation, how to study effectively or time management. As we stated above, since this event is conducted bilingually, students are allowed to use both English and Japanese. 

Differences Between Physical and Online TACO Events 

We have organized TACO events for the past two years. During the 2019 academic year, we held it in the ESPA in person, but due to the pandemic, in the 2020 academic year, we had to organize the event online using Zoom. Therefore, this section focuses on the differences between physical and online TACO events and discusses the following three items: the number of participants, topics for each session and the method for event promotion. 

Changes in the Number of Participants  ​  

Figure 1
The number of participants of physical TACO events in (2019) and online TACO (2020).                       

Figure 1 indicates the number of participants in 2019 and those of 2020. As the two graphs show, the number of participants in 2019 and 2020 have similar trends even though TACO events in 2020 were held online. Based on our findings, it was apparent that the format in which TACO was held did not influence the number of participants. In fact, the first TACO event in 2020 recorded about the same number of participants as the first TACO in 2019, and almost all the attendees were freshmen. We believe the reason why the number of participants in the first TACO tended to be higher than in subsequent events was because freshmen were given class assignments to learn about the services and events held in the SALC. Additionally, based on feedback from the participants, some freshmen mentioned they joined TACO because of assignments. 

Even though the number of attendees were almost the same between the two years, the size of the event in 2019 was bigger than the one in 2020 that was held online. One possible reason for the larger numbers in 2019 is that the four PAs were always present at the events in and LAs also periodically attended. Moreover, in 2019, the event was held on campus in a high traffic area in the SALC making it easier for students to stop by the venue. Through all of our experiences, we believe that two or three participants are appropriate for TACO events because when two or three participants joined the event, we were able to effectively interact with them and have a fruitful discussion. Additionally, we could be aware of when the participants were able to talk with one another. In fact, for example, in June 2020, nine freshmen attended the event, and we felt it was difficult to give each participant an opportunity to share their opinions with each other. Therefore, we worried about whether some participants felt left out. Taking this situation into consideration, we realized that there are setbacks in following the concept of TACO when there are over 5 students. This leads to situations which seem more like lectures from PAs to participants––in particular, online TACO events.  

Topics for Each TACO Event 

Table 1
List of topics for each TACO event in 2019 and 2020

We set a specific topic for each TACO event, and the two lists above show each topic we have discussed over the past two years. Each of the topics were decided in meetings before holding each TACO event. We considered and decided topics that were suited to each season, for example, we talked about job hunting in December 2019. The reason for that topic is that almost all junior (third-year) students at our university started job hunting from the following January. Therefore, we wanted students to connect and share their experiences with others––in fact, two PAs had already experienced job hunting at that time. It was our aim to make this TACO event a time to exchange information and hopefully improve motivation for job hunting. Using another example, we discussed goals for the first semester in June 2020. We decided on this the topic because online classes were started while Japan was in a national state of emergency. We expected that many students, including freshmen, had anxieties taking online classes. Therefore, we tried to give students an opportunity to improve their motivation through holding that TACO event. In this way, we tended to decide on topics related to self-directed learning and school life.

The Ways of Advertising 

In order to promote TACO events to students, we used various ways of advertising. For physical TACO events, we had more ways of advertising versus online events. However, as what can be seen in Figure 1, the number of participants were generally unchanged between the physical and online versions of TACO. Over the past two years we have had trouble advertising while organizing TACO events. We found that students who had high motivation tend to seek information about events and workshops in the SALC and participate in them. On the other hand, there are some students who lack the motivation to seek information. Even though TACO events are for giving students opportunities to improve their motivation, it is difficult to advertise the event to students who do lack motivation to begin with. Furthermore, the online environment especially makes advertising difficult because students need to collect information actively by themselves. So, we tried to figure out effective advertising methods by using posters in online situations. 

Table 2
The ways of advertising TACO events in physical and online environments 

For online TACO, we made posters by ourselves every time. When we made them, we were mindful of three points: language, content, and color, to make it easy for students to come to the TACO events. Firstly, we made posters using English and Japanese, because we wanted to make students comfortable to come. If we made posters in English only, some students would think it difficult to join the event. It is true that to practice speaking English is one of the purposes of TACO, but it is not the main purpose. We aimed to give all students opportunities to think about their self-access learning and know PAs even if they are not good at speaking English, as a result we made the posters bilingual. Secondly, we took into consideration the amount of content presented on posters so they could be easier to understand when viewed by students. Since in 2019, we could invite students to join TACO face to face, in 2020 in order to mitigate such opportunities, we summarized the content of each event and wrote them on the posters as concisely as possible. Lastly, when creating the posters, in each iteration of the flier we changed the color and background images to help students have a better understanding of the topics––we also attached our pictures to clarify who the organizers were. Table 2: The ways of advertising TACO events in physical and online environments 

Figure 2
Posters promoting TACO events 

Reflection on overall TACO 


First, it can be said that overall, the TACO events for the past two years were successful. However, there were some differences between physical and online situations. Therefore, in this section, I will reflect on the two-year experiences of organizing TACO and talk about what I have noticed.  

Regarding TACO events in 2019, since we had sessions in person, participants seemed to have more natural conversations than in 2020. On campus, once students got together at the ESPA, they naturally started chatting with other TACO participants. In other words, we could cultivate a friendly atmosphere before starting the event, and that made TACO events in 2019 a more conversation-based event. On the other hand, in an online situation, participants sometimes hesitated to speak. The possible reason for that was they were concerned about the lag sometimes experienced in video chat and did not want to interrupt someone else who was speaking. Based on my experience, this is a typical issue for an online learning environment. However, when we look at it from a different angle, we could provide some follow-up questions or add some information to provide a chance for participants to talk and make the discussion more active. The point is that while students could have more natural and casual conversations in physical TACO events, the online events were effective in regard to having more constructive discussions. In other words, we were able to have different types of discussions due to the change of location from the SALC to online. 

Another major difference between 2019 and 2020 was the method of collecting feedback. In 2019,

we could ask participants about how they felt right after each session. However, in an online situation, it was difficult to continue the conversation in order to collect participants’ feedback after sessions,  therefore, we used Google Form questionnaires to get feedback. Even though the way of asking participants’ opinions was different, they seemed to give their honest opinions in both cases. Based on feedback, we were able to improve the content a number of times, therefore, we believe TACO was always a participant-centered event. 


Looking back on TACO events, I think all the events were effective for participants and for me as a student and PA. I have experienced different ways of holding TACO events over the past two years. As a result, I have realized through organizing TACO events both physical and online, the important points are different depending on the format of the event. In particular, I think I focused on different aspects between the physical and online environments, for example, regarding physical TACO events, I tended to focus on promoting the ESPA. As we showed in the biggening of the paper, the concept of ESPA is “English Speaking Practice Area” and TACO events use this area for every meeting. Therefore, I encouraged students to speak English and I also spoke in English more so than in online events to follow the concept of ESPA to the best of my ability. In fact, participants also seemed to speak English more in physical compared to online TACO events. On the other hand, in online situations I tended to focus more on the self-directed learning of participants, instead of promoting the ESPA. Therefore, I was satisfied with the results for online situations when I could ask participants more questions and listen to their opinions deeply. Considering these experiences, I believe I could support students as a PA through TACO events from different aspects regardless of the situation. Notably in the online environment, I had a strong desire to support students under the online situations as much as possible. However, even though TACO is a good opportunity to promote PA services, I could not encourage participants to book advising sessions as much for over two years because I could not follow up with them after TACO events. Nevertheless, despite this difficulty, I am confident that TACO events were beneficial for students in their academic and school life. 


TACO was an event that provided students opportunities to think about their self-directed learning and to collaborate with other students. The original purposes of this event were to promote the ESPA and to create a new type of support to help students and we think we were able to achieve these goals. As for the ESPA, we could only use the area for a year, students might have been able to remember that the ESPA is an area where they can study with their friends using English, Japanese or both. In fact, before the pandemic, we saw some students communicating in English with each other there. Focusing on a new type of support for students, they seemed to be satisfied with the contents of the events. Before TACO events, there were no such events where students could talk about self-directed learning with peers. 

According to the questionnaire that we gave to participants, some students provided similar comments stating that they could reflect on their learning and got some effective tips to manage their learning. In addition, there were some comments where students mentioned that they could get to know others and collaborate with them. Therefore, this could be a new support system for students in that they could gain some new insights for their self-directed learning and share their experiences of university life. 

In the 2020 academic year, although we had to conduct all events and workshops online, we could successfully continue them without the loss of quality. People may sometimes think negatively when they face unknown situations, but we found that a difficult period could be a chance to produce something new. In fact, we were able to recreate TACO events for the online environment, and the events could contribute to students’ success.  

However, we still have some improvements to make, such as promoting PA which is one of the main purposes of TACO. In an attempt to promote the PA service, we asked participants to book advising sessions with us at each event. However, we did not receive many reservations from the participants of TACO. There might be a number of explanations for this, one of the reasons being that our support after each TACO event was not enough. We sent an email to participants after each event, but we could have sent more follow-up emails to see how their learning was going. If new PAs continue holding TACO events next year, we hope that they can provide more effective support for participants.  

The following statements are about our individual growth that we have found through our two-year experiences of organizing TACO events. 


While introducing some theories of self-directed learning and led discussions about them, I learned a lot from TACO events, just like the participants. As a result of doing activities at the events, I could reflect on my learning and find new perspectives through the discussions. Moreover, I noticed the kind of situations that are common between students, such as the difficulties in time management and motivation. Therefore, when I talked with other students, I intentionally asked questions about these two topics and saw how they felt about them. Additionally, through the experience of hosting the event, I was able to practice giving follow-up questions and drawing out participants’ true opinion and then apply these skills as a PA when holding advising sessions. Therefore, in short, organizing TACO was valuable for me, and I could learn skills that I can use even after graduating from university. 


For two years, through the TACO events, I have learned much from the participants and other PAs. Since TACO events mainly focused on self-access learning it was a great opportunity to know of various ways of keeping motivation, studying language and managing time from everyone involved. These ideas and opinions were useful for my own advising sessions. Furthermore, I learned some advising skills, such as different methods of asking questions from other the PAs through TACO events. Based on the past 2 years, I believe TACO events made me grow as a PA because I was able to adapt to different topics that came up in advising sessions. I would like to apply what I have learned from these experiences to my future. 

Biographies of authors

Yusei Takahashi: is an English major at of Kanda University of International Studies. He works in the Self-Access Learning Center as a student staff member (SALCer) and has organized workshops and events related to self-directed learning. His academic interests include motivation theory and sociolinguistics.

Rio Fukumura: is a student at Kanda University of International Studies, majoring in English. She transferred from Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages in 2018. She has worked in the Self-Access Learning Center as a student staff member (SALCer) since 2019 and has organized workshops and events related to self-directed learning. 

2 thoughts on “A Reflection on the Two-year Progress of Peer Advisor-led Events for Promoting Collaboration among Students”

  1. 1. Comment on at least one positive aspect of the paper.
    The abstract is clear (except for my suggestion of mentioning KUIS instead of saying “our university”) and to the point. The introduction gives me a clear framework and background so that I can understand the roles of the authors at the SALC. The bilingual aspect is very interesting and unique.
    2. Add a personal reflection or connection related to the content.
    The points regarding advertising were very good. Do you have a LINE account for students to join events so that they can get information on what is going on in the SALC? I don’t see it on the list, so perhaps creating a LINE account maybe also be helpful in advertising events?
    4. If appropriate, feel free to make a suggestion for improvement (in a kind, yet constructive way).
    For titles, APA suggests that we capitalize the second part of the hyphenated major words and also words that are four letters or more [I am writing this because I learned about this recently due to my own negligence.]
    In the abstract, it says “our university”. Perhaps change to Kanda University of International Studies.
    Table 1 has physical as “Physical” with a capital P. This appears to not be consistent with the table on the right that has “online” in lower case.
    This sentence was a bit hard for me to understand. We aimed to give all students opportunities to think about their self-access learning and know PAs even if they are not good at speaking English, as a result we made the posters bilingual.
    biggening of the paper -> beginning of the paper
    This sentence is a bit confusing to me because I am not sure what it is trying to say and how it connects with the other ideas. As for the ESPA, we could only use the area for a year, students might have been able to remember that the ESPA is an area where they can study with their friends using English, Japanese or both.
    such as promoting PA -> such as promoting PAs
    led discussions -> leading discussions
    I thought that the reflections in the conclusion could be integrated into the body of the article as I got a bit confused reading them at the very end.
    5. Feel free to ask a question in order to promote reflective dialogue.
    I find it interesting that Yusei talked about how the TACO discussions online and in person were different—that online had more constructive discussions. Do you (Yusei) have an example of this?
    6. Finish your review with an encouraging comment for the author.
    I was very impressed that the PAs wrote the article. This article inspired me to work with our PAs (we call them Language Assistants or LAs) and encourage them to write papers as well. I was also very happy to hear that the online TACO events provided different kind of opportunities to students. I think that the problem with advertisement will remain for SALCs in general because no matter how much we advertise, if students do not actually pay attention to them, they may not even notice them. Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to learn about your TACO events at Kanda University of International Studies.

  2. Dear Yusei and Rio,

    Thank you for sharing your experience and reflection. The year 2020 was clearly a difficult time for everyone. However, you “found that a difficult period could be a chance to produce something new” and successfully managed to provide a platform for students to learn with each other. As a previous member of a SALC student committee and currently a learning advisor at the SALC, I admire your initiative to take such an action in order to create a more fruitful, collaborative learning environment.

    Yusei, it was insightful to read your reflection on how face-to-face and online TACO were both successful and yet in different ways. You mentioned the different dynamics of the conversation among the participants when face-to-face and online: it was more natural, organic when it was held in person possibly because the physical setting allowed the participants to mingle and naturally start conversations once they came to the ESPA whereas it worked better as more constructive discussions when the events shifted to online. As I am also a learner taking online courses myself, I could relate to you when you mentioned the hesitation to speak in an online meeting. I believe it is a common experience for a majority of students, and it has been indeed one of the challenges we, both teachers and students, still face. Looking back, do you think the fact that it was PAs, not teachers or learning advisors, that organized the events, influenced any aspects of the discussions? Also, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on how this experience to be an organizer/facilitator may or may not have affected who you are as a student/participant in your other online classes or meetings in any way.

    Rio, it was interesting to read about your realization. When holding face-to-face events, you were focusing on promoting the ESPA and the use of English there. You naturally spoke English more yourself, and others did, too. Shifted to online, you placed more emphasis on promoting the participants’ self-directed learning. The purpose of the events went beyond the use of the target language, indeed. Did you feel any conflicts when your focus was shifting, or was it all natural to you? Also, it seems to me that your being able to see the situation from two different points of view (as a student and as a PA) allowed you to be sensitive to others’ needs under the unusual circumstances and flexibly adapt accordingly. I would imagine student participants appreciated the opportunity to feel related and learn about self-directed learning especially during the time when we all had to physically stay apart from each other, facing the situation of uncertainty.

    Last but not least, you both mentioned that the experience of organizing TACO events helped you grow as Peer Advisors. I think this shows that you successfully created the environment where both you and participants could collaborate and mutually benefit from each other. Wonderful work to both of you and thank you again for sharing your experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *