The chance to connect with cutting-edge research, a diverse and international cohort of students and with staff at the top of their fields is the cornerstone of a UCL education.
The opportunity to create connections is one of the most crucial aspects of a university experience and can include:
- Connections with peers;
- Connections with staff;
- Connections across levels or programmes of study;
- Connections across disciplinary groupings;
- Connections to cutting-edge research;
- Connections between theory, practice and some of the most pressing challenges our society faces;
- Connections out into industry and with the wider world.
Understanding what those connections should look like from the current student perspective is important to ensure that our education is enabling students to learn and feel part of something bigger than just being a student on a course.
Learning Communities involve people learning together in groups and socially constructing knowledge. This positions learning as a social process - rather than an individual activity – through which learners must interact, analyse, negotiate, communicate and share with others who may have different views and backgrounds.
Watkins (2005) tells us that a community is a collective with certain hallmarks:
- Agency: members decide, review.
- It is where belongingness develops.
- Cohesion amongst members emerges.
- Diversity is embraced rather than seen as a difficult.
Learning communities, therefore, are an important part of student learning but also helps develop a sense of connectedness to their cohort/department/faculty/institution, where they feel valued and respected. Thomas (2012) also reminds us that belonging is intrinsically linked to success, offering us this refined definition of what success means:
“It has become increasingly clear that success means helping all students to become more engaged and more effective learners in higher education, thus improving their academic outcomes and their progression opportunities after graduation (or when they exit higher education).” (Thomas, 2012).
Name 'tents' - If you are in a lecture hall, one way to get to know the names of your peers is to use a simple folded piece of paper with your name written on it clearly. Either stick it to your laptop, or put it on the desk in front of you.
Do you have a communal white board? Consider playing simple games such as hangman on it. Participating students don't all need to be there at once, the drawing can be added to over time.
Do you have a departmental Twitter or Instagram account? See if there is a template for students and staff to write a short intro/bio and include a photo. Check out recent ChangeMakers project Many Faces of UCL, or Humans of New York for similar content and ideas.
In the NSS results for 2022, 60.8% of students agreed with the statement “I feel a part of a community of staff and students”. This is up from 54.4% from 2021, but it is still below the sector.
Addressed in the Student Priorities for Wellbeing Report 2022 and UCL’s Student Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2019-21, the term ‘wellbeing’ is defined as:
“A state of physical, mental, and emotional health where a student is able to engage meaningfully in learning and contribute to their community. Wellbeing is personal and multifactorial, but typically includes feelings of being socially connected, a sense of direction and belonging, satisfaction with personal achievements, and low levels of anxiety.”
- Minimise learning that creates isolation;
- Small group learning;
- Students bring in their experiences;
- Co-produce (do something active together);
- Quality and quantity of interactions;
- Aligned with Learning Outcomes so students are motivated to engage.
Example 1: Meet the researcher (various departments)
Meet the Researcher is an adaptable induction exercise that was devised via the Connected Curriculum. It is an activity that provides students a structured way to work together in their first few days at UCL to familiarise themselves with staff in their department, as well as recent research, buildings, labs, equipment (as appropriate). The outputs can include a presentation, a poster, a short video - and talking to research staff in their chosen field gives an opportunity for students to think about future career paths. See how this activity has been implemented in Psychology and Language Sciences, and what Linguistics students have said about it.
Example 2: Uncovering Neglected topics in the Curriculum (Greek & Latin)
Students and staff in Greek & Latin first explored neglected topics in the curriculum that were of interest to both and where they wanted to shine more light on these topics. Students were then paired with a staff supervisor to research and develop a session on one of the topics identified, which were showcased in an online seminar series. The resources used for these sessions were made available to staff, who have worked to embed them within the curriculum in subsequent years.
Example 3: Relay Series (Architecture)
A series of four events brought first-year architecture students together with their second and third-year contemporaries, creating an environment that enriched knowledge sharing and collaboration. The events provided an opportunity for students to connect and learn from one another, encouraging a sense of community within the architecture program.
During these events, the second and third-year students shared their drawings, portfolios, and experiences from their first year. This exchange allowed the first-year students to gain valuable insights into the different processes architecture students go through during their education. The senior students' willingness to share their knowledge and expertise proved instrumental in inspiring and guiding the first-year students in the first steps of their architectural journey. The discussions and interactions facilitated a deeper understanding of the sometimes confusing and frustrating creative processes involved with design.
The events also served as a platform for fostering mentorship and establishing relationships between students across different academic years.