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Creating a community of support through social activities

Project leader(s): 
Sue Pawley and Cath Brown
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current

A number of STEM students find their modules academically demanding; success for such students requires the development of resilience and a growth mindset, as discussed in Johnston-Wilder and Lee (2010. Barber et al (2019) show that a strong sense of community amongst learners contributes to promoting this.  Belonging to a supportive community has also been shown to enhance attainment (Cançado et al (2018)) and  increase retention (Foster et al (2012)).

In particular, Mathematics and statistics students’ feelings about a lack of community were shown in NSS data (2020 figures show 53.2% positive response on the “Academic Community” measure, compared with 58.5% for STEM as a whole), and as mentioned in Hilliam et al (2020), and demonstrated in student behaviours on social media, some students do seek a community. 

The aim of this project is to purposefully create a sense of community amongst students on a module , both as a desirable outcome in itself, in terms of enhancing student experience, but also to indirectly  boost retention and resilience, so enhancing student success. The connections made by students, and their experience of the benefits of interaction, would hopefully result in a boost to retention and success beyond MST124. Calvert et al (2017), which examined the experiences and approaches of students who “succeeded against the odds”, included recommendations from the students concerned to “get connected”.

The approach to be taken is to run a series of social events for students on J and B presentations of the large multi-community Level one module, MST124: Essential Mathematics 1. The events will focus on activities (for example quizzes, games, talks on non-academic topics such as history of mathematics, “drop-in and chat” events) that require students to interact in small groups synchronously. The focus of many of the events on activities will avoid the potential awkwardness caused for less outgoing students, encouraging them to interact in more academic situations, such as tutorials and contacting their tutor.

The planned events will be informed by student focus groups; these will also be used to give a baseline for sense of community amongst students.
Effectiveness of the program will be analysed qualitatively using questionnaire data, and quantitively using demographic and academic data on participants.


Barber, W., van Oostveen, R. and Childs, E (2019), Situating Resilience, Grit and Growth Mindset as Constructs of Social Presence in the Fully Online Learning Community Model , ECEL 2019 18th European Conference on e-Learning. Available online:-

https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=ZMjBDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA65&dq=community+growth+mindset&ots=NNKXoZWbGR&sig=BJrOjmHbI-9nJ5FxhOHrGa0hHtQ&redir_esc=y%22%20\l%20%22v=onepage&q&f=false#v=onepage&q=community%20growth%20mindset&f=false

Calvert, C.  Edwards, D.. Brown, L., Fulford, C., Coleman, J. and Hilliam, R (2017), Succeeding against the odds. Available online:-

https://openuniv.sharepoint.com/sites/units/lds/scholarship-exchange/documents/Forms/Metadata.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2Funits%2Flds%2Fscholarship%2Dexchange%2Fdocuments%2FCarol%5FCalvert%5FSuccess%20against%20the%20odds%5Fwritten%5Freport%5FFINAL%5Fweb%2Epdf&parent=%2Fsites%2Funits%2Flds%2Fscholarship%2Dexchange%2Fdocuments

Cançado, L., Reisel, J. and Walker, C (2018), Impact of first-year mathematics study groups on the retention and graduation of engineering students, International journal of mathematical education in science and technology 49. Available online:- https://www-tandfonline-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/doi/pdf/10.1080/0020739X.2017.1423120?needAccess=true

Foster, E., Lawther, S., Keenan, C., Bates, N., Colley, B. & Lefever R. (2012) The HERE Project Toolkit: Higher Education: Retention & Engagement. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Available online:- http://www.improvingthestudentexperience.com/library/UG_documents/Toolkit_-_HERE_Project.pdf

Hilliam, R., Arrowsmith, G., Siddons, A., Goldrei, D. and Brown, C, (2020), The Mathematics and Statistics Community of Learners. Available online:- The Mathematics and Statistics Community of Learners. eSTEeM Final Report.pdf

Johnston-Wilder, S. and Lee, C.  (2010), Mathematical Resilience, Mathematics Teaching 218. Available online:- https://www-atm-org-uk.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/write/MediaUploads/Journals/MT218/Member/ATM-MT218-38-41.pdf

Sue Pawley and Cath Brown poster

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