Weaved into the core of the new Online Welcome Package is a community hub. This space was developed to support and enable all new students to informally introduce themselves and connect with their future peers.
We knew that simply providing a space alone with no direction and no voice would not entice engagement and build a sense of community. Therefore, partnered with the CUSU student rep team, we agreed the main aim & purpose of the discussion forum should be:
- A welcoming environment where any question however big or small can be posted
- A discrete school-specific space for peer to peer discussion between incoming students and course reps to provide information, guidance and sense of joining a community.
The Welcome Facilitators
Working through the technical capabilities of Moodle and challenging current mindsets around the use of discussion forums we pushed forward with the development.
Continuing the partnership with CUSU, the DMLL developed and delivered a training programme to 26 current student course reps to build their knowledge and capabilities around instigating and facilitating online conversations. The reps would be formally known as ‘Online Welcome Facilitators’. It was important to us that this space would only have students participating in conversations and providing information. Designing this as a student-only space allows for students to take ownership of discussions and a sense of responsibility towards peers as they build a sense of community. As staff we can provide essential information but our current students are the only ones who know what it feels like to be student at Coventry right now.
The Welcome facilitators would build and foster a sense of community amongst new students before arrival at Coventry. They could help to relieve any feelings of isolation or anxiety about joining University, answer questions and share their experiences of studying at Coventry.
They could signpost towards important information and in the run up to arrival and feed information about social activities that will provide the opportunity for new students to meet face to face when on Campus.
For efficiency and to allow the course reps to build relationships with students coming into their areas, 13 discussion groups were developed to match the 13 schools across the University. This way any school specific questions could easily be managed and students would be more likely to meet others from the same course.
Launch day felt like organising a party and wondering if anyone will turn up or enjoy themselves. The conversations that begin here would be the first human contact pre-arrival students would have, and we were putting all our trust in current students to make a good impression – using everything they had learnt during their training.
Conversations started slow and built rapidly in some groups, we still have 2 weeks to go and at the moment the Community Hub has had nearly 15K views with over 1.5K new students actively taking part in conversations. The conversations are varied, mature and supportive.
The Welcome Facilitators have exceeded all expectations and have represented our student body to the highest standard – we couldn’t be prouder!
A big thank you to the Student’s Union for working with us throughout this project, it is a great achievement and I hope this will be the start of many future project partnerships!
Can an online student community space work? Yes absolutely! But as with most things, planning, great teamwork and a passion to get it right is essential.