Fostering purposeful engagement by building staff-student communities
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many universities moved to a blended delivery of online and in-person teaching. While necessary for public health, this significant disruption to education risked greater isolation and anxiety for students with the potential for less engagement and, consequently, reduced confidence in their abilities. However, it also presented an opportunity to re-evaluate practice and take steps to create new staff-student communities with potential to shape student engagement.
The School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Nottingham took several approaches to preserve and enhance student engagement, such as induction processes to foster new online communities, initiatives to boost academic and social interaction, development of close partnerships between staff and students in shaping the pandemic response, and the creation of an online staff community to discuss pedagogic practice and share training resources. The effectiveness of these approaches has been evaluated throughout the pandemic via staff-student meetings, module evaluation surveys and staff surveys.
More than half the cohort joined an online student forum showing students appreciated online social interaction. However, for studying, students engaged in new one-to-one study-buddy and peer-mentoring schemes which students reported reduced their isolation and anxiety associated with online learning. Students reported online discussion forums to be one of the most useful tools for online learning. They liked being able to ask questions anonymously, in a forum where the lecturer was also present, something they could not do previously with in-person teaching. However, many students reported difficulty with managing their time because of increased asynchronous learning activity indicating a need for students to be trained in how to engage with online studying.
Most staff have adopted elements of flipped learning to maximise student-student and student-staff interaction in the limited contact time. Staff engagement in their online community was strong, with most staff attending workshops and training sessions regarding online teaching. Consequently, staff were able to rapidly trial and share approaches that successfully addressed student feedback and promoted interaction.
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