Engaging students in 20204 November 2020
How have the events of this year changed the way we need to engage with students?
Collaborating with students to help shape their university experience is more critical than ever in these turbulent times.
The core of student engagement is involving students in shaping their university experience. When students are able to share their feedback and see changes resulting from their feedback, they are more engaged with their own learning experience, as well as with wider university life.
When staff and students work together, focusing on achieving specific goals and sharing updates regularly, students are more engaged, and more likely to enjoy their university experience.
Setting the scene for student engagement
First, your students need to know that there are places where they can share their feedback, such as Student Surveys and Module Evaluation. This is particularly important in the 20/21 academic year: students should have the opportunity to express their thoughts – and any negative feelings – sparked by the changed learning context resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, you should explain how student engagement works at Cardiff. To support effective student voice, students will need contextual information around what student engagement is. Outline how the Likert scale works, and the different levels of feedback at the institution, early in the semester.
Explaining the difference between module evaluation and institutional surveys sounds simplistic, but it will give students a framework for understanding how their feedback is acted on, and will help them ensure that the feedback they give in different surveys goes to the team best placed to act on it.
Engage students in their learning
Understanding what your students appreciate will help you to engage them in the classroom – especially an online classroom, where there are different challenges to building relationships and cohort identity.
Students value being able to get to know one another – and their teaching staff! – during sessions. You can engage your students in a great social learning environment by:
- Making time for an informal chat before the session starts.
- Giving your students verbal updates of any news before you begin teaching.
- Using icebreakers to get to know your students.
- Building discussions about course material into class sessions.
The Student Engagement Team has a wealth of training materials and resources available to support you in this work. For further support, contact email@example.com and the team will be happy to help.
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“Students value being able to get to know one another – and their teaching staff! – during sessions. You can engage your students in a great social learning environment by:
Making time for an informal chat before the session starts.”
This is all perfectly sensible…except most students now keep their cameras permanently off, and their microphones semi-permanently muted, and many are perfectly happy if their Zoom feed shows their username rather than a birth name by which they might actually be addressed. ‘Informal chats’ rely a lot on body language, and when you attempt them with an invisible student they quickly become sterile (‘How are you?’ [unmute] ‘Fine thanks’ [mute]). If students value getting to know one another, they are not demonstrating this in virtual meetings. In my school a lot of staff made a big effort to encourage the use of cameras for the first few weeks of teaching, but student complaints about feeling put under pressure and made anxious, plus a critical mass of invisibility making the visible students feel uncomfortably exposed, means that now around 90% of undergraduate students in the seminars I run keep their cameras off. It goes without saying that there are plenty of legitimate reasons for doing this, but the trend towards almost total invisibility suggests that conformity to the statistical norm is winning the day.
I did have one lovely experience a couple of weeks ago, when in the middle of a breakout room a student suddenly turned her camera on, and another student then recognised her from the previous year and turned her own camera on, before they started gossiping excitedly. This was a rare occurrence though.
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