Practical guidance on supporting students to have positive social transitions and interactions at University, with both staff and peers.
Social relationships - the interactions that students have with their peers and staff - play an important role in fostering students’ sense of belonging and in supporting them throughout their studies.
When students arrive at University or start a new programme, they are often concerned about meeting new people and making friends. Later, friendships are an important informal source of support, both for academic and personal challenges.
Interactions with staff are also important. Positive interactions help students to feel welcome and valued, and give them the confidence to seek help when they need it.
How can you build peer relationships?
In your induction activities, help students to feel part of a community:
- Include group discussions or activities.
- Draw attention to what these students all have in common (i.e. being new students on a particular course/in a particular department).
- Student generated induction is a specific method you can use to help generate a sense of group identity.
- For more ideas, see our guidance on building community.
Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other:
- Include collaborative activities in taught sessions, for example through problem-based learning, team-based learning, group work or simply conversations in lectures.
- Organise co-curricular activities, for example induction sessions, social events, field trips.
- Make sure students have the chance to make friends at different points in time, not just during the first week.
Make the most of peer learning:
- Students value the opportunity to talk to students further on in the course. You can do this through tutorials, social activities or peer learning.
- Both staff and students can set up peer learning activities: read the guidance on getting started and contact email@example.com for further support.
Encourage students to get involved in university life:
- Promote departmental activities.
- Make students aware of the Students’ Union.
- Work with your departmental society to help build a local student community.
How can you enhance student-staff interactions?
Students are more likely to succeed when they have meaningful interactions with staff and when interactions extend beyond the academic context. Here are some suggestions:
- Develop a welcoming and inclusive departmental culture. Treat students as individuals.
- Provide opportunities for students to interact with staff outside of taught sessions, for example at departmental events, social events, field trips, etc. Working with your departmental student society can be a great way to bring staff and students together.
- Involve students in research in your department. Enable them to meet researchers and learn about their work.
- Think about the spaces in your buildings: do these encourage student-staff interaction? Could you use the space differently?
The New Starter Programme in the Health Sciences School enables local commuter students to meet each other, learn from student mentors and get to know the University before intro week. The programme combines academic and social induction, and students play a key role in developing and delivering it. The programme helps new students, particularly those from widening participation backgrounds, to feel more confident about starting university. Students receive a University of Sheffield hoodie which further bolsters their feeling of belonging at the University.
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