Welcome to May–June Learning and Teaching Enhancement Theme: Building Community. This post introduces Building Community PhD Interns Yuemiao Ma and Bradley Sharples, who are supporting work on community building as part the University’s Enhancement Themes activity.
The Enhancement Themes are a way for students and staff in universities across Scotland to work together on a theme to improve the student experience. The current Enhancement Theme is Resilient Learning Communities (2020-23), which focuses on meeting the changing needs and values of an increasingly diverse student community in a rapidly changing external environment.
Why is building community important?
There are several challenges that we are attempting to address. One of these is to develop the sense of community and belonging at the University. Addressing this could be highly beneficial in enhancing the student experience – from increasing knowledge about opportunities available, to aiding student wellbeing, to challenging structural barriers that some student groups face. Another challenge is attainment/awarding gaps, which refers to the differences in academic success between different student groups at the University. Additionally, we need to develop more evidence to inform community building practice at the University, including more qualitative data.
For postgraduate research (PGR) students specifically, even though a lot of students report a positive experience in doing interesting and diverse research, there are indications that this group often struggle to feel part of a research community or group.
What are we doing to support community building?
Our overall aim is to improve community building practice across the University by developing an understanding of ‘what works’ for students and staff.
We are updating the student feedback guide in order to improve communication between students and staff. We are also currently finalising the development of a ‘Theory of Change’ model to support our work on and develop our understanding of the opportunities and challenges within community building at the University. Additionally, we are liaising with students and staff on various projects and activities. We will provide support for a project in the School of Health in Social Science to improve experiences for students with disabilities, and we are liaising with Moray House School of Education and Sport regularly to follow up on their community building practices, including the Community Champions project, Practice Worth Sharing sessions, and Feel Good Walks.
For PGR students, one of the things we will be doing is to hold a PGR Rep roundtable (a recommendation which came from one of last year’s PhD Interns) for all levels of representatives to share practices. We will also be working with the Students’ Association and the Doctoral College to hold a series of interdisciplinary presentation evenings for PGR students, followed by networking. This is aimed at providing some semi-academic, cross-college opportunities for PGR students to present their work.
Going beyond University level, we are also involved in a PGR student project by sparqs (Student Partnership in Quality Scotland) to gather positive learning experiences and explore diverse representation models across all Higher Education Institutions in Scotland. This could help build on our University’s support for students.
Our role in these projects and activities is to figure out ‘what works’ and spread this throughout the University.
‘Community building’ is a theme of the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference in June. There will be many sessions on community building throughout the conference, and an exhibit stand on Day 1 in McEwan Hall.
We have also been working with Teaching Matters to curate a series of blog posts on community building. In this series, we will hear from:
- Dr Neil Speirs: Twenty years of peer support: The fellowship and solidarity of community.
- Borislava Georgieva and Azwa Iman: Creating a community of Freshers: A new culture in engineering education.
- Chris Sheridan: We Are Family! A recipe for a successful summer school based on the Master in Family Medicine Programme.
We will also both be writing a blog post on how our own work on building community is progressing, and reflect on what we have learned.
Yuemiao is a PhD student at Moray House School of Education and Sport at the University of Edinburgh. Her research is about Global Citizenship Education with relation to Model United Nations.
Bradley is a PhD student at Moray House School of Education and Sport at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on inter-national inequality within the developmental context of lower-order sports mega-events.
James is currently a third-year architecture student at The University of Edinburgh with a keen interest in illustration and social impact causes. Outside of his studies, James is involved with community focused architecture practice, a number of arts organisations and third-sector consultancy.