Universities have long contended that what students take from their time with us is more than just what they get on the course. It’s the opportunity they have for personal development and the life experiences they get from the opportunity to broaden their horizons, meet new people, try new things.
The research, much from the USA and Australia, backs up this contention. Vicki Trowler (2010) in a review of student engagement research presents a significant body of literature showing the correlation between student involvement in certain types of ‘educationally purposive activities’ and ‘positive outcomes of student success’.
What is so interesting is that the mix described above is almost all best served via the student’s own academic department. Of course a wider university, with its exciting opportunities for co and extra-curricular activities and its excellent systems of support and advice is crucial in our large and complex institution. But, a look at the crucial types of engagement suggests that it is to the academic home where we need to focus if student engagement, and hence student success, is to be fostered.
Is it good for everybody?
…engagement increases the odds that any student – educational and social background notwithstanding – will attain his or her educational and personal objectives, acquire the skills and competencies demanded by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and enjoy the intellectual and monetary advantages associated with the completion of the baccalaureate degree. Kuh (2009: 698)
How do we foster engagement at department level?
Although the National Student Survey is much maligned, most people would agree that the best departments do come to the top. So, what are their students actually saying about their department? Taken from the free text comments of students from one high-scoring Liverpool department where 40 written responses were made: