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Community: How belonging boosts student engagement

Nurturing a sense of belonging amongst students is at the heart of successful retention and student success. 

Having a sense of belonging means that students feel accepted, valued and included by their teachers and peers and consider themselves to be an important part of their academic community. They are motivated to learn and engage with their course, leading to greater attainment and progression, and improved academic achievement.  

Students are most likely to feel they belong to their course or programme, with sense of belonging decreasing at school and institutional level. 

Developing an inclusive curriculum, utilising group work, and building interaction and “audience” participation into teaching using tools from our EdTech Ecosystem can all help students feel engaged in their learning and develop connections with their teachers and peers. 

Why is a sense of community and belonging important? 

Research shows that facilitating a sense of belonging in students enhances the student experience and both reduces drop-out rates and leads to improved academic achievement.  

Conversely, when students feel that they do not belong it can impact negatively upon their experience, confidence, satisfaction, attainment outcomes, confidence, aspirations and employability as well as their overall wellbeing. Importantly, some groups of students are more likely to feel lower levels of belonging, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+, who have a disability, are care leavers/care experienced or are from different cultural, language or ethnic backgrounds than their peers. These same groups of students are identified by the Office for Students as being underrepresented and less likely to do well than others, even when their previous academic achievement is the same. 

Fostering a sense of community on your module or course can therefore have a positive impact on NSS responses, MEQ results and student success. Critically, developing a sense of belonging amongst underrepresented groups can facilitate equity of attainment, a strategic priority for the University Group. 

How can I create a community to boost engagement? 

  • Make content interactiveProvide opportunities for students to engage with learning materials through polls, quizzes and interactive learning content. The EdTech Ecosystem signposts to supported tools and guidance. 
     
  • Design audience participation – When delivering a synchronous activity, design in audience participation activities. These might take the form of a simple poll or asking participants to raise their (virtual) hands. You can use Kahoot or an audience participation tool from the EdTech ecosystem to gamify the audience participation experience. 
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer interaction – Use group work and icebreaker activities to allow students to get to know one another (and you) on a personal level. Try to mix students up regularly and use low stakes activities to support them in engaging with one another. 
     
  • Make use of the Aula Feed – Aula is designed around conversation. As well as posting updates, use the feed to pose questions and challenges for students to respond to. You might wish to structure these around topical events or key calendar dates. 
     
  • Use emojis 😃 – Where appropriate, using emojis in communication through Aula can promote a light-hearted tone and provides access to a living language that is representative and inclusive of all in ways that words cannot always as easily offer. See other tips for writing for online audiences here. 
  • Co-create – Provide students the opportunity to steer the direction of discussions, or the module through co-creation of content. This can increase students sense of agency over their learning experience and boost engagement, satisfaction and success. 

Where can I find out more? 

Authors

  • Nik Beer

    Nik is an Assistant Professor Faculty Curriculum Change Lead in Curriculum 2025, working with the Faculty of Business and Law. She is Curriculum 2025 lead for Inclusivity and Sense of Belonging.

  • Oliver Atkins-Wood

    Oliver is an Academic Developer supporting curriculum design and development across Coventry University Group. He works for the Academic Enhancement and Professional Development Unit in the Office of Teaching and Learning.

Updated on December 17, 2020

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