Tips for keeping students engaged and happy

In this blog, three colleagues share their tips for enabling student engagement. The approaches were developed during the pandemic and have been updated as we have moved back to face-to-face teaching. All examples engage with communities and resonate with how we can create a sense of belonging at Bristol – themes that we pick up in our upcoming annual BILT conference, Building community and belonging in a challenging and changing world.  

Biochemistry , Mike Jones 

Final year staff lead 

In 3rd and 4th year, there are a small number of units and very few with optionality. In this context it is possible for a dedicated member of staff to act as unit director for most of the final year units. This gives students the sense that the school are managing deadlines, managing them closely, and generally shepherding them through the end of their degree. 

Strength of student voice 

The School places a strong emphasis on student feedback ensuring students feel heard and know that their feedback is important. Feedback is gathered in several ways. This includes fortnightly tutorial programme in year 1 and via the staff-student liaison committee. Responses to student feedback that result in changes to the programme are communicated back through course reps to be shared with students and completing the cycle.

Weekly teaching planning meeting 

During Covid, the teaching team switched from termly teaching committees to a weekly teaching planning meeting. It was attended by all unit directors, the student administration manager, their deputy, and usually the head of school. This one-hour meeting proved an effective means of operating the teaching programme and upcoming deadlines. It served as a space to share experiences, common problems and problem-solve together. As well as a useful way to stay hands on and organised. It also increased student perception of the teaching being organised.

Engineering , James Norman 

Alumni talks are a great way to demonstrate what you teach has real world value. Alumni can explain how units, which they struggled to see the value of at the time, are incredibly beneficial! They have real world experience at how their education at Bristol differentiates them from other professional colleagues. Alumni talks don’t need to be forced – alumni are proud of their degrees and often mention what differentiates them without us asking them to. Students hear the same message from alumni differently than how they hear staff, so alumni talks can help reinforce positive messages on the benefits of the programme.  

School of Education , Lucy Wenham 

Supervisor groups 

Clusters of select dissertation supervisors were created to build-in peer support. Each supervisor had 5-7 students who could work as peer support groups. This meant that the supervisor was able to spend more time with students. The practice also improved group working and community-building. 

Student-facing hours 

UG portfolio director making a conscious decision to maximise the proportion of workload hours that are allocated to student facing activities. The portfolio director, with understanding across the programme, was made available for c.2hours a week. Being open to talking about many different academic concerns can serve as an opportunity for signposting, however, It requires a reasonable workload allocation to work effectively. 

Embedding enrichment activities with weekly drop-ins & “futures” sessions. The latter include talks from alumni experiences, experts discussing careers options, discussions regarding masters options, and skills building in partnership with the careers team. Students want to be listened to AND known by staff. When a guest visits, the school staff member stays for the session to be seen and available. This provides a continuity of presence. Again, with in-house academic oversight – drawing from but not all farmed out to other teams – students want to be known by their lecturers. 

Year 3 UG Dissertation Support and Writing Retreat Awaydays 

These provide another opportunity to be together and build community as well as an extended period to seek advice and support from key lecturers. 

Finally, linking up with EdSox for SSLC and Socials. This relationship helps get Reps. Also working on shared social events so social and academic is blurred rather than separated. 

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