Being part of a well-functioning academic community is important for student well-being, motivation and learning. This applies to the class, to the year group, across year groups and throughout the subject, with fellow students, teaching staff and other peers. As a teacher, you can strengthen your students' academic community in several ways.
One of the first and most important steps is to show commitment to the community and enthusiasm for the subject: this is contagious. Below is inspiration with more ideas about how you can strengthen the academic community.
In order to help students feel that they are mastering the subject and that they belong, it is important that they experience academic success. First-year students in particular may feel uncertain about their choice of degree programme and their own abilities, and they need to experience that they are mastering the academic work. Therefore, it is important to consider how you can create good conditions in your teaching for student success. For example, you could:
Get the students to contribute with knowledge and experience from previous education, everyday life, or similar so that they feel that they have something to offer.
Articulate the skills and competences the students have developed on their degree programme and in their work on the subject. Putting into words the skills students have acquired can strength their affiliation and their academic identity.
The academic community is strengthened by creating something together, as students develop a common understanding of the academic material, cultivate their academic skills in a common context and take ownership of the academic content and learning. For example, you could:
Let students plan an academic activity in order to take joint ownership of the academic content. This could be a seminar day, for example, or an excursion, a theme day or something else. See an example of a lecturer getting students to hold a student seminar with self-selected presentations for the rest of the class.
The academic community is not limited to the class, but extends right out to the academic environment; across year groups, out to the department and to peers outside the university. By interacting with representatives from different parts of the academic community, students can get to know the community and the academic aspects better and find that they too have a place in this community.
Invite alums in to talk about the relevance of the subject outside the university, and how the academic skills acquired can be applied. It can also help to make the academic skills and competencies more visible to students. Specific examples of jobs the programme can lead to can also motivate the students.
Set up an academic study café, where students can meet for a specific period (e.g. three hours once a week). This can not only strengthen the academic community, but also academic dialogue and understanding. There can also be space for feedback at an academic study café. The idea behind a study café is to provide students with the opportunity to get help with their academic work or to discuss academic topics. During the time slot, teaching staff, student teachers or older students should be present in the café to help or talk with the students.
See an example of how a study café can be structured.
Ask students to investigate the subject field to gain an understanding of what subject specialists work on and what the degree programme can lead to. For example, students could interview researchers in the department or make a mind map of research areas. See an example of a teacher encouraging students to gain insight into the academic field in practice.
Feedback can strengthen the academic community and academic identity, because it helps students clarify what they know or do not know, and what they can or cannot do. This gives them a good basis for development. Feedback can also be an outset for success experiences.
Furthermore, peer feedback allows students to practise their academic skills and thereby develop their academic identity. By taking part in academic conversations with fellow students on how to work in the subject, students are also being included in an academic community.
Study groups are small academic communities in themselves, in which students can confidently delve further into their subject. However, study groups work best if they have something specific to work on and have a clear purpose for their collaboration, e.g. a specific task or issue.
It also often helps group collaboration if there is agreement on how the group want to work together. Go to AU Studypedia's page about group work for advice about working in study groups – and ask your students to do the same.
Karin Scager, Johannes Boonstra, Ton Peeters, Jonne Vulperhorst, and Fred Wiegant (2017): Collaborative Learning in Higher Education: Evoking Positive Interdependence in: CBE- Life Sciences Education Vol. 15, No. 4