In a hybrid world, data can help create an identity for students

Written by Alex Chapman on 16 December 2022 in Opinion

Gathering and analysing information can help institutions promote engagement and wellbeing, according to Alex Chapman of Middlesex University

Credit: Ekaterina Ershova/Pixabay

As remote learning becomes more frequent, institutions need to be mindful of its impact on student belonging and cohort identity. It has become clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to student engagement will no longer work for a vast portion of students who cannot, or even do not, wish to spend all their time on campus. 

At Middlesex, around one quarter of our undergraduate UK and EU students come from deprived areas, and are the first generation from their household to enter higher education. Four in five of our UK students spend more than 40 minutes travelling to our campus. Consequently, we’ve seen many of our students choose online as an option which fits in with their other commitments.

However, we’ve been very mindful of the impact of remote learning on student belonging and cohort identity. This needs to be considered as we look to move forward with newer models of teaching delivery, such as hybrid and blended, and work towards a delivery model where online learning complements on-campus activity – not replaces it. 

Middlesex has been focusing on providing support for students in this blended model of learning as they move through their course, and using student engagement software from Solutionpath, we have a centralised dashboard to keep record of every student’s engagement, performance, and progress. 

With the acceleration in the use of new technologies, there is an increased risk that students simply don’t feel like they belong in their institution. Cohort identity has been difficult to conjure, meaning that the discussion around belonging has had to become embedded into the wider conversation of the university experience. 

This information is vital to help academic tutors identify students potentially at risk of dropping out – allowing them to make decisions with the student’s wellbeing at the heart. This data will also play a key role alongside academic advising as we look to integrate aspects of hybrid learning into the curriculum, but also as we continue to ensure students feel the sense of belonging during their time with us.

These data analytics can also be used to identify different engagement patterns across specific disciplines and cohorts to show the numerous ways students are engaging with their programmes. This allows us to develop tailored answers on how we can then best support the student based on their course or cohort. Alongside things like student surveys and other formal and informal feedback mechanisms, we can get a holistic oversight on the student experience of our university programmes and make improvements where the data indicates it would be beneficial. 
Cohort identity and blended learning 
A huge part of student engagement and participation is, of course, ingrained in wellbeing. 

Data on student satisfaction is not a new concept but, with higher education seeing such an acceleration in the use of new technologies, there is an increased risk that students simply don’t feel like they belong in their institution. Cohort identity has been difficult to conjure with the mix of virtual and online spaces, meaning that the discussion around belonging has had to become embedded into the wider conversation of the university experience. 
When students first arrive at Middlesex, an onboarding process and welcome programme takes place. Students are asked to complete a pre-arrival survey, before meeting with their academic advisor for the first time. The data helps advisors to understand the make-up of their cohort of tutees and helps to identify specific support requirements. Each student receives an action plan for the following months.
Academic advising plays a key role in supporting students in achieving the best possible outcomes. It involves a mixture of group tutorials and one-to-one meetings including 12 interactions based around the student lifecycle and embedded into the curriculum. This will generate rigorous data and student feedback so that any issues are flagged earlier rather than later. The process also gives the student opportunities to interact and connect with peers and staff members to help them integrate into the learning community.
As well as being a worthwhile indicator of engagement and wellbeing from the offset, data can also reveal the digital skillset of our students and staff. Many online resources have been introduced only since the beginning of the pandemic and therefore not everyone is comfortable or confident with this type of learning. Knowing what digital platforms and in-person approaches work best for different cohorts and disciplines will help to define how we move forward with our teaching and learning strategy.     
We know that at Middlesex we don’t have all the answers but, as we look to move forward with our strategy, we will ensure we continue to work with students, staff and technology partners collaboratively to maximise that student experience.


About the author

 Alex Chapman is head of technology enhanced learning at Middlesex University     


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