Student Engagement is key to student retention and success in Higher Education

We believe that Student Engagement is key to student retention and success in Higher Education. Whilst engaging in educationally purposeful activities is not essential to academic success (Kuh et al 2006), in-class involvement has been shown to be critical to the students’ experience of success (Tinto, 2012). Within the SIG we take a broad definition of student engagement, embracing engagement with programme, their studies and personal academic tutoring. We consider how we as tutors and education providers can design programmes of activities that students can see the benefit of engaging with.

At the end of November, we held our first full meeting. We were very privileged to have two excellent presentations. First Dr Catherine Picton of The University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia told us about her research on “Student Engagement in an Online World”.  First Catherine reminded us of the wealth of literature underpinning the connections between teaching practice and student engagement and then focused on Kahu and Nelson’s (2018) integrated Student Engagement framework, and how the student experience has cognitive, behavioural and emotional dimensions, influenced by their sense of belonging, well-being, self-efficacy and emotions. In particular the discussion focused on how this framework could be modified for our new online world.  It was felt that establishing a sense of belonging and break down barriers was critical to students’ transition to University at this time. Simply things such how one introduces oneself would set the tone for future interactions and increase inclusivity, and using tools such as breakout rooms to encourage group chat and anonymous methods of contributing to discussions (such as Padlet), would aid student participation. 

Our second presentation was from Andrew Rawson of Action for Access. He outlined that a key finding of their What works? report was that pro-active tutor contact was particularly importance to establishing the student- tutor relationship very early in the student journey, as was a programme of activities to identify academic areas for improvement and provide opportunities for meaningful interactions. A recurring theme has been the importance of emotional connection and establishing a sense of community that unpins psychological well-being and persistence.

Moving forward we intend to continue to share good practice, with the aspiration of developing a Toolkit of examples of best practice, linked to case studies with the possibility of this leading to some cross institutional research to further the debate about what works.

Jean Assander and Melissa Jacobi

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