Why students stay with study (it’s not skills development)

Students who sense they belong on campus stay, which is good for them and their institutions, as governments take a dim view of excessive attrition. Consequently, Joseph Crawford (Uni Tasmania) and colleagues set out to study what creates “belongingness,” by looking at survey data.

Quite a lot of data – the 1,431,083 responses to the Commonwealth’s student experience survey, 2013-’19.  They stopped at ’19 to establish a research base untainted by COVID that institutions can use “to create more inclusive and supportive environments for students.”

Their research found:

  • the perceived quality of the educational experience was the most important influencer of a sense of belonging, “a form of general litmus test that students present their general feelings about their experience.”
  • support in settling-in rated second and the authors suggest institutions should look to provide “concerted and systematic” assistance before students start. “Drawing on the existing strengths of student groups’ support systems is key.” 
  • “genuine connection is core, making inductions and orientations, “great influencers”

And there is a finding “in direct conflict with current assumptions around one key tenet of the transition pedagogy” – the importance of skill development.

“This would suggest that rather than a focus on embedded critical literacies and skill development, a greater emphasis on connectivity would support students to transition to an institution they felt a sense of belonging to,” the paper stated.

“Student skills developed in class, such as discipline knowledge, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and written communication had low incremental changes on their predictive effect on sense of belonging, whereas skills such as teamwork, confidence to learn independently, and spoken communication development in class were those that saw the greatest improvement over time for belonging.”



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