You cannot be what you cannot see
This week we held our first livecast of the academic year, talking about the trials and tribulations of building a learning community, and ensuring that all students feel like they have found their place in the university.
Community is part of the SOL Baseline, and in that context it means being online together, tutor and students, and clear communication. While that is important, our guests expanded and enriched the theme to discuss what community is, why it is important, and how we can help develop it.
Dr Carole Davis, the Head of Academic Development in WSMSE, sees community as being a safe space where you can be included, heard and seen by people with whom you share common values. A learning community therefore should be co-constructed with students to allow for shared rules of engagement, mutual accountability and support.
For Denise White, Course Leader for HNC Construction and the Construction Management degree, a sense of ownership and belonging is vital, as this promotes emotional investment in the group and imbues it with meaning.
Both agreed that when faced with a classroom community formed from very diverse groups, whether that’s by race, religion, gender or class, allowing all students the chance to feel known as individuals gives them the opportunity to find someone to talk to who knows where they’re coming from and what they’re dealing with. It’s our job to create the environment where even the quietest voices can be heard.
A major study from the NUS – Opportunity Blocked – made the link between lack of progression with students reporting loneliness and isolation. They might be commuter students, have caring responsibilities, live alone, or need to work. Not everyone can take part in extra-curricular activities so it’s necessary to find a balance, providing flexibility so students have space to figure out what works for them. For Denise, this means putting aside some seminar time towards the end of term for the whole group to go out for breakfast, or for a coffee. She also gives over half an hour of class time each week for students to surface any issues, catch up with each other and recalibrate, relating to each other as people.
As Carole noted, it’s only when people feel right and good that they can learn.
Absolutely fundamental are the conditions you create online and in the classroom. Perhaps it is our role as a university to enable students to be spontaneous in their participation, to understand what is possible and what they can do themselves, whilst being professional and inclusive.
How do we achieve this? For Carole, it’s those teachable moments, being bold and brave, when we model an inclusive community to our students.
For Denise, the key thing is student ownership and belonging, which means being flexible and adaptable to the needs and preferences of each cohort, letting the community evolve naturally.
We cannot be what we cannot see; we all need to find our tribe.
Watch the full livecast here