8 things I learnt about student engagement at the SEDA Conference, Leeds, May 2018
1. Metrics are an important element of TEF, but we also need qualitative evaluation alongside metrics mindedness. Rather than getting everyone looking into the same challenges, it is better to support small practitioner-led Student Success projects. This is something we are doing already at UCA through the Student Success Committee – see the Creative Education Network for details of Induction and Tutoring sub group activities, research on interruption and non-continuation and first year experience projects.
2. Student engagement with the academic challenge of their university experience and their sense of belonging to their institution have been linked to improved retention and progression. Most universities are investing a lot of time and effort into defining this with their students. At the University of Derby, for example, they have put together a Student Experience Framework, which offers a map to students of how they can immerse themselves in the whole university experience – learning, studying, undertaking personal development and making the most of the social and cultural aspects.
3. Research suggests that student engagement also leads to the achievement of higher level learning outcomes and increased student satisfaction with their educational experience (Krause, 2005). But… student engagement also implies that a whole body of students are disengaged. How are we defining student engagement at UCA, and what does disengagement look like?
4. Offering a huge range of timetabled activities for induction does not work. It is information overload. Many universities now believe it is more important that students have a sense of what to expect from their studies and the sort of community they are joining. What do we do at UCA for our students pre-arrival?
5. It is important to know the demographics of your student body. Scheduling needs to consider All of the students, ie not just 18 year olds. We know at UCA, that 26% of our students are BAME; 21 % have a declared disability; 96.3% of entrants came from state schools; 13% of our students come from Low Participation Neighbourhoods and only 31% of the student body is male. When we think about retention and progression activities, we should be cognizant of the diversity of our community of learners.
6.In an age of instant opinions and information overload, maybe universities should focus more on the benefits of reflective thinking for students in terms of developing cultural capital? What are the ways that we embed reflective thinking skills for our students? How do we teach them about reflection? Is it time to return to PDP or personal development planning?
7. Do we make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning? We know that learning is a tricky business in which you are in a constant state of perplexity, hesitation, doubt..’ (Dewey 1938). You will venture into new places, strange places, anxiety provoking spaces (Barnett, 2007). If learning is uncomfortable, are there ways we could foreground this to our students? What are the ways we could be encouraging students to befriend uncertainty and welcome the unknown?
8. Employers want students with good teamwork and collaboration skills. Adopting a Team based learning approach at the University of Bradford has apparently lead to a very high number of 1st and 2.1’s. Creative arts graduates have these softer skills in abundance. How are we making this explicit within our curriculum? Do all our students realise they are learning these skills and that they are key graduate attributes?