Connection for Retention - building effective learning relationships

Many of you took the time to put your heads together on 28 September to participate in our combined #HEAchat and #LTHEchat on Twitter, discussing ways to enhance retention by knowing more about our learners. We have compiled a Storify of the conversation for you to review and share.

If you would like to add to the conversation and share your views and experiences please tweet using the hashtag #HEAchat. We look forward to hearing about your experiences and sharing ideas.

With the dynamic policy landscape of higher education - the Higher Education and Research Bill, the introduction of the TEF, the government agenda on social mobility and pressure on universities to provide a high quality student experience – the issue of retention has come to the fore. With a sharp focus on retention metrics as a proxy to teaching excellence it can, at times, feel like the ownership of retention exists at a macro level. 

This blog and associated twitter chat intends to stimulate discussion about what we can do in our teaching practice to make a difference regarding retention.

The What Works report of 2012 makes it very clear that building a ‘sense of belonging’ and being included are key to increasing retention.  Getting to know your students seems like an obvious activity, especially when they are new to the course, but equally, sustaining a positive relationship with students is important.

However, there are other challenges that make getting to know learners tricky. Class size is on the rise, alongside the increase in sessional teachers, interdisciplinary teams and the many contact points we have with learners across the programmes. All this without even questioning the ethics and expectations of what an effective learning relationship is! The typology of boundaries identified by Lori Aultman and colleagues opens up a way to interrogate (and ultimately negotiate with learners) the points of engagement as a learning dyad. 

Perhaps we should become more critical about what we mean when we say ‘getting to know students’. There are many layers that we need to explore here.  Christie et al (2014) discuss the importance of building understanding about how your students’ progress through their learning career and the transition points that are unique to them. Indeed, the concept of learning gain centres on knowing the journey taken from entry point to graduation - continually learning about our students seems pivotal. Without such knowledge about our learners’ motivations for learning we will never be in the position to exploit these! Not to mention embracing heutagogy as part of our teaching approach.

The HEA framework on Access, Retention, Attainment and Progression draws on best practice from the sector to consider the issues that students and universities face when navigating the HE environment. What underpins the framework is the emphasis on developing positive relationships. Without these we are poorer and achieve less.

For the chat, we would like to hear about what:
a) Your best activities that foster good relationships with your students
b) How you have built trust between each other, helped students navigate hidden  curriculum, reinforced positive value systems and acted as a role model (whilst remaining real!)
c) And how do you measure the impact of your activities on student retention


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