Making Connections and Keeping Connected: Engaging Diverse Learners Across Multiple Sites

Narelle LEMON
La Trobe University, Australia
n.lemon@latrobe.edu.au

Tanya FITZGERALD
La Trobe University, Australia
t.fitzgerald@latrobe.edu.au

Caroline WALTA
La Trobe University, Australia
c.walta@latrobe.edu.au

Deborah NEAL
La Trobe University, Australia
d.neal@latrobe.edu.au

Rebecca MILES
La Trobe University, Australia
r.miles@latrobe.edu.au

Karen CORNEILLE
La Trobe University, Australia
k.corneille@latrobe.edu.au

Abstract

Student retention and success at higher education has been widely researched (James, et al., 2010; Kifts & Nelson, 2005; Roberts, 2011) however, much of the data available is positioned within policy responsibilities and discussions around institutional structures. With emerging research indicating that there is no one singular reason for students withdrawal from higher education it is important to look at a number of inter-related factors that leads to disengagement and ultimate unsuccessful experiences driven by issues around pedagogy, practical organisational issues, and support provided (Devlin, 2010; Kirk, 2008; Laing & Robinson, 2003; Yorke & Longden, 2008). Building from these recommendations, this paper aims to share the beginning phase of a funded project that aims to focus on social integration and socially inclusive pedagogies (Gale & Mills, 2013) that connects students within a supportive learning community. The project is based in Australia at a multi campus university that actively encourages the use of online tools to build and nurture peer support and collaborative learning. An unintended consequence of this tool has been the fostering of friendships within and across multiple campuses. As we argue in this paper, it is this online community that has the potential to connect students with their peers as well as with the institution. Importantly, student voices already speak to ways in which these connections encourage their learning and have cemented their intention to remain at university.

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