Storying a Sense of Belonging: A Student Perspective

Paula O’Brien

The aim of the research is to extend previous research by Liz Thomas 2012 and 2017 by conducting 1]qualitative research on the related theme of a sense of belonging at the University of Lincoln. We aim to use students as co-researchers to help analyse student data which is anonymised. This will enable a richer understanding of the relationships that students have within their own institution and with key figure such as student reps and personal tutors
“My role as Student Engagement Champion & subsequently Student Engagement Champion Lead within an International Business School has evolved over 5 years and forms the basis of the rationale for this research project. Having significant responsibilities for the transition of new students into university the sense of belonging literature has guided me over the past 5 years [Thomas 2012; Callaghan 2016; SRHE 2017].Social, cultural and academic adjustment of new students to the university is key. Evidence suggests that a sense of belonging can impact on both student retention and achievement. The Get Set Data of new students to the university has previously highlighted a range of issues which act as a source of anxiety for new and existing students.

The story completion project will centre on 3 storylines a] international student 2] the mature student 2] the UK student. Participants are not limited to what they include in their story and so responses provide a much deeper insight into how other perceive the sense of belonging among these students. The scenarios are kept realistic by asking student to imagine a student from one of the 3 categories in a conversation with a student rep or personal tutor.

Data has previously been gathered from second year students during the last previous academic year and has now been anonymised by Dr Hylton. Four students will be recruited as co-researchers alongside myself and Dr Hylton to analyse this data. The use of students as co-researchers is valued highly by the 2 lead investigators and believe that these students will make a valuable contribution to the interpretation and presentation of the research findings. Understanding the storying of a sense of belonging from a student perspective makes a valuable contribution to the literature within the sector.

“Within the sector, a student’s sense of belonging has largely been explored using survey data (What Works 2012, 2017). In contrast, a story completion approach has been specifically developed for the purpose of exploring a student’s sense of belonging from a qualitative perspective and lends itself to a deeper understanding of the student experience.
Data collection will primarily take place within the School of Psychology among students in their second year. Ethical approval has therefore been sought and approved for this project. The students who participate in this project will be required to generate individual responses by completing a story completion task. Each participant will each be emailed a story-completion task to complete within a specified time. After the in-session activity, these students will be asked if their uploaded submission could be used as part of research informed teaching practice shared within the wider academic community.
Students are not required to identify their name or enrolment number for the purposes of anonymity. Consideration has been given to the process of data collection and therefore the anonymity procedures used for coursework submission will be used. Blackboard has been as a approved as a digital platform for storage of data which is compliant with the university’s requirement for security and confidentiality of research data.

Each student will be randomly sent one for six versions of the story to complete.
• Story A: An international student arranged a meeting with their student representative.
• Story B: An international student arranged a meeting with their personal tutor.
• Story C: A mature student arranged a meeting with their student representative.
• Story D: A mature student arranged a meeting with their personal tutor.
• Story E: A student arranged a meeting with their student representative.
• Story F: A student arranged a meeting with their personal tutor.