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How to boost engagement to offer the ‘best possible experience’ to students

25 Apr 2023 | Advance HE More than 140 academics and HE staff explored ways of making campuses more attractive to students at Advance HE’s first-ever in-person Student Engagement Conference.

Whether it’s inside the lecture theatre or over a flat white at one their cafes, campuses are great places for students to connect, engage and feel that they belong.

But, as Dr Kay Hack, Advance HE’s Principal Advisor (Learning and Teaching) told participants at the Student Engagement Conference on 20 April, there are challenges to making campuses places that students want to hang around in.

Creating a 'sticky campus'

She called for the creation of ‘sticky campuses’ and called on participants to explore ways of encouraging students to stick around on campus outside lectures and tutorials.

She said: “It about how we encourage students to stick around on campus in between formal learning opportunities.

“This makes campus a more vibrant space that allows and encourages students to connect with their peers, meet others and engage in campus activities.

“Students create their own learning spaces and a question is why has this student decided this is the best place to study? Maybe it’s because there are no seats anywhere else, or because there’s a power socket there. When we go into this, we shouldn’t design campuses how we think they should be, we should take time to reflect and ask what spaces are students using, how are they congregating and moving around campus and how can we design more of those types of spaces?”

Future student expectations

Chairing a panel session focused on future student expectations, Education Developer at Nottingham Trent University, Conor Naughton, said: “There is no other sector in the world where the consumer and their expected experience changes year on year. We’ve seen that with the pandemic and with ChatGPT and we have to make sure we rise to the challenges and make sure we’re offering the best possible experience to students.”

Sophie McCarthy, a Student Board Member at Independent HE, said: “Student engagement isn’t simply about consultation. Meaningful engagement with students cannot and should not revolve around asking how they feel about things the institution is doing to help them. Realistically, there always needs to be active co-creation there to be meaningful student engagement.”

MacKenzie Marshall, Education Officer at Newcastle Students’ Union, said students need to feel connected with their wider community at their institution.

“Our students who come from further education now expect to have a much more personalised approach,” he said.

“They’ve got that sense of belonging, they walk down the corridor and everyone says hello and there’s often more distance when we get to higher education.”

Chief Executive at Arts Students’ Union Yemi Gbajobi, said: “The future of student engagement is firstly recognising that student engagement is a skill and strategy and that it needs more investment, conversations and spaces. It needs strategic development and leadership at the highest level, because students can and are voting with their feet.”

How YouTube helped boost student engagement and employability

At the University of Dundee, Dr Paul Campbell, leader of the Biomedical Physics Research Group, has incorporated a YouTube video project into his Electrodynamics module – and seen students learn new skills and improve their marks.

As part of the module, 10 per cent of marks are for a short YouTube video groups of students are tasked with producing on a key topic from the module.

According to Dr Campbell the task helps the students develop the skills they need to be effective team members – project management, delegation and negotiation. “Employers have told me over the years that it’s not so much technical expertise that students lack, it’s their ability to be confident, especially in giving presentations,” he said.

“Doing this project helps people’s confidence blossom so that even the shyest students with a bit of confident feedback can outshine the confident tricksters in their teams.”

Enhancing student engagement in such a way has huge benefits for both the students involved and the university. For students, there was a notable rise in module performance, with an improvement in grade scores of two grades (6.5%) compared to the previous structure of the module, and a notable rise in student attainment.

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We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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