Tag Archives: Student integration

Student Engagement and Student Success: It’s all about belonging

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’.

Fig 1. Student involvement and student success
Fig 1. Student involvement and 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:

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The Inclusive Department: international students

Following on from a previous blog on Internationalisation and Student Satisfaction, and in the wake of Welcome Week and the start of the new academic year, Anna Chen offers some of her observations and suggestions for better integration of Chinese students.

 

Timing of support

The first four to  six weeks of the semester are intense with a great deal to take in. This can lead to overload issues. For example, students whose English is not strong often have not really taken in everything they need (‘nodding’ is not the same as understanding), and personal and cultural shyness are also factors in this early stage.

So, for academic support, invitations need to be put in different ways and more than once throughout the year, e.g. for essay writing, literature review etc. If offers of support only come at the start of the year, when language skills are not so strong, the invitation may not be taken up, though the support is very much needed.

If the invitation also comes later in the semester and annual programme when language skills and cultural confidence have improved, the offer is more likely to be accepted and used.

Discipline-specific issues

There are subject-specific issues for international students e.g. need for essay writing in humanities, role of students’ opinion in social sciences etc. So, ‘opinion’ is itself a pedagogical issue, taken for granted with European students, but in need of pedagogical definition and development for some international students.

Working with the Guild

The staff view that their role is specific to the discipline, whilst the social side of the student is ‘for the Guild’ or elsewhere, does not work for many international students. These students often need or even expect their tutors to direct them in areas of student life beyond the subject. So, opportunities to become more socially and culturally integrated need to come from within the department as well as being on offer from the Guild.

Communications from the Guild about activities and social opportunities should be co-branded with, and come from within, the departments to give them ‘authority’ to international students.

Social Initiatives from within the department

90% of Chinese students do not join student societies (‘the girls go shopping; the boys play online games’). To encourage participation, attendance at co-curricular and departmental events could be attached to credits; part of the ‘life of the department/discipline’.

Could there be departmental fresher’s or society fairs – at more than one point in the year?

The city’s heritage should be used far more. After all, that is what the students do know about Liverpool before they come here (maritime, link with Shanghai (Expo), football, Beatles etc.). Tutors could perhaps take out groups of students – this is done as part of Health Sciences Welcome events, but not in most other departments.

Learning-at-scale issues

In departments where there are very large numbers of Chinese students (e.g. Liverpool School of Management), large lectures (1,000) should be followed by reinforcement seminars (as at the University of Manchester).

In-reach

Can UK undergraduate students become involved in types of integration effort within their department? Undergraduate students are already involved in out-reach to schools. Can they then become involved in ‘in-reach’ for international students?

Dr Anna Chen