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Understanding and Promoting Student Engagement in GEES Learning Communities. Katie Livesey Student Experience Officer, School of Earth and Environment (SEE), University of Leeds. GEES 11: Teaching and Learning for GEES students, 30 th June – 1 st July 2011. The next 15 minutes.

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Understanding and Promoting Student Engagement

in GEES Learning Communities

Katie Livesey

Student Experience Officer, School of Earth and Environment (SEE),

University of Leeds

GEES 11: Teaching and Learning for GEES students, 30th June – 1st July 2011


The next 15 minutes

Brief overview of Countdown to University Study Resource

Introduction to on going project:

Understanding and Promoting Student Engagement in GEES Learning Communities

Talking about how student ambassadors have been used in promoting student engagement


The project environment

  • Project focus: Undergraduate students within the School of Earth & Environment
  • Approx 750 undergraduate students (approx. 15% international students)
  • Entry requirements for UG courses are ABB
  • Courses offer year in industry/study abroad and 4 year Masters programmes
  • Across the Earth and Environmental Sciences:
  • BSc - Environmental Conservation/Geological Sciences/Geopyhsical Sciences/Meteorology and Climate Science/Environmental Science
  • BA – Environmental Management/Environment and Business/Environmental Sustainability

Student Engagement in SEE

  • Countdown to University Study
  • Web based resource designed to help with transition to HE study
  • Made available through the university VLE to all students who have accepted their offer
  • Provides course specific introductions
  • General information about Leeds
  • Study advice and activities
  • Link to Facebook page to meet other new students

  • Evaluation of the project revealed that students would welcome:
  • A resource that extends beyond induction, bringing together the student population
  • A deeper understanding of academic life and research within SEE

Introducing the project

About understanding the how, what and why of student engagement

  • Identifying the:
  • gaps in
  • barriers to
  • facilitators to
  • opportunities for
  • ……student engagement

Implementing initiatives for facilitating student engagement


Exploring student engagement

Identifying the how, what and why

(through informal discussions, observations, student ambassadors, focus groups)

  • WHAT: Are the opportunities for engagement in SEE?
  • Membership of student groups/societies and chapters –also committee members
  • Attend research institute seminars and other talks and lectures
  • Attend other activities promoted within the school e.g. building open evening, careers fairs
  • Being actively involved in tutorial system – proactive use of Leeds for Life (LfL) system
  • Student reps – different levels of engagement – do reps actively participate in forums?
  • School rep
  • Membership of professional organisations e.g. orgs supporting student chapters, SEG, AAPG, also RMetS, IEMA
  • Involvement in activities and groups related to studies e.g. Green Impact Team, Bardon Grange Allotments
  • Being a proactive learner – contribute in lecturers, ask questions, seek assistance
  • Social network groups by course
  • Induction activities – trip to Malham/societies bbq
  • Student ambassador/intern – LfL opportunities
  • Being aware of what is going within the school through reading emails/ looking at tv displays/reading website news
  • HOW: Can students get engaged?
  • Contribution in lectures
  • Membership of student societies
  • Active participation in activities e.g. focus groups, helping out at open days
  • Membership of social network sites (e.g. facebook)
  • Formal involvement in school activities e.g. student rep
  • Actively seeking support from academic staff
  • Positive involvement in tutorial process
  • Attendance at teaching sessions
  • Willingness to build knowledge, understanding and experience of subject area and/or school e.g. reading websites/newsletters
  • Committee member of student society
  • Integration with peers in programme

Classifying student engagement

Engagement Audit - to identify the way students can and do engage in the School





Curriculum design and delivery




School / department level

Institutional level

UK policy level

National Student Forum

Campaign/protest e.g. march against introduction of student fees

Involvement in study groups

Proactively using Leeds for Life

Attendance & attitude

Contribution in class

Involvement with peer group

Module survey

Dissertation / research projects

Membership of student societies, chapters & groups

Attending Research Institute seminars

Membership of societies & professional bodies e.g. Leeds Geological Society

An awareness of current affairs related to studies

Course reps

Attendance at staff-student forum

Photo competition

Involvement in induction activities

Reading website/ newsletters

Participation in events

Completing NSS

School Rep

Involvement in institution wide initiatives Member of UoL clubs and societies e.g. International Student Society

Involvement with NUS

Student ambassador


Barriers, Gaps and Facilitators

  • The School building (new building)
  • -no physical identity (no ‘home’ School)
  • Students unaware of research activity
  • had heard about equipment but never seen it
  • Lines of communication
  • not aimed specifically at UG
  • too much irrelevant information
  • email overload
  • Level of research seminars
  • -too specific (students felt intimidated)
  • -unsure if UGs welcome
  • Inconsistency with student groups/societies
  • -unsure of what they did and who they were

Building engagement: first steps

Creating a sense of belonging to an academic community

Building the School student community identity

-open evening

-School Facebook group

-dedicated noticeboards

-celebrating success – Results Day

-launch of student newsletter (LEEP)

  • LEEP: Leeds Earth and Environment Pages
  • Produced by students for students
  • Termly newsletter
  • Features include :
  • LEEP likes (activities)
  • LEEP forward (careers, continuing education) fieldtrip reports,
  • lecturer interviews,
  • what’s on/forthcoming events
  • society news and events

Building engagement: first steps

  • Introduction of SEE Undergraduate Seminar Series
  • run by societies
  • relevant across all disciplines
  • at an appropriate level for UG audience
  • Focusing on improved communication
  • -removal of UGs from School email circular
  • -one line of communication (reinforce purpose of LEEP)
  • regular forthcoming events list and notices from LEEP
  • Launch of Student Societies and Groups Forum
  • building links
  • identifying opportunities
  • sharing ideas and knowledge

Student Engagement Ambassadors

2 ambassadors recruited (one from each of the Earth & Environmental Sciences)

Paid during term time – 5 hours per week

  • Overview of process and experience
  • Recruitment process was very useful
  • Their student perspective was very helpful
  • Useful for their knowledge of student groups and societies and contacts
  • Overall 5 hours too much (work load and responsibilities need reviewing)
  • Flexible approach not the most effective
  • Useful to have perspectives from Earth Sciences and Environmental Sciences
  • Greater responsibility – single project?
  • Greater involvement from induction

Further and on going, in depth research

  • Survey of all UG students in SEE
  • -survey adapted from NSSE
  • -explores activities relevant to the individual learner level
  • -examines the relationship between students & their peers, teaching & support staff
  • -investigates how students perceive the activity of the School in providing opportunities for engagement
  • -more in–depth than NSS (55 questions and 2 open questions, excluding personal details)
  • -survey delivered on-line and face to face (distributed in lectures)
  • -prize draw offered
  • approximately 450 responses (online and face to face) from 750 students
  • -survey closed mid June

Early findings from survey

Results from face to face survey (345)


Further and on going, in depth research

  • From UG survey results – is there a need for further research, i.e. focus groups?
  • Exploring the staff dimension to engagement
  • How do staff perceive engagement?
  • Do they want to be engaged in School/with students?
  • Carry out the survey in other GEES subject centres (national study)
  • Establish a network of interested parties to share good practice



Beyond research

  • Acting on the findings to make positive changes towards student engagement
  • -School Student Experience Officer being employed
  • -Employability Assistant
  • 3 student ambassadors
  • Build on the potential student societies and groups have to generate engagement