Keynote Sessions

'Tapeworm or technological breakthrough - can e-learning contribute to student retention in higher education?’

Ormond Simpson, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand

It is not yet clear whether e-learning will either be the revolution in teaching and learning that its proponents claim or, alternatively, ‘a technological tapeworm in the guts of higher education’ as suggested by Professor David Noble. There are issues of popularity, access, retention and cost which have yet to be resolved. This presentation will review these issues and suggest that the best way to use new technologies may be to combine them with some of the recent findings about learning motivation from positive psychology and elsewhere, into a new theory of student support – ‘Proactive Motivational Support’.

-learning, engagement and student retention
Dr Martin Oliver, LKL and HEA


Support Me! Develop Me! Retain Me! – A multi-pronged e-approach to retention and transition

Neil Currant & Rebecca Currant, University of Bradford

Research has identified that the initial experiences of University can have a significant impact on subsequent student engagement (Tinto, 1993). Work at Bradford and Bournemouth has identified that students who make early contact with academic and social infrastructures are more likely to remain involved in their course (Currant and Keenan, 2008).
The University of Bradford has decided to use new technologies and e-learning during the crucial initial induction phase as well as to support and improve student academic skills to aid retention. Social networking, e-portfolios and reusable learning objects have been used to create an integrated package (Develop Me!) of transition, induction and study skills support for students to complement the face to face work.
The four key technology supported strands of the Develop Me! are:

  • Pre-entry
    • Social networking for new students
    • Expectations survey for new students
  • Post-entry
    • SaPRA: a personal development planning skills review using an e-portfolio tool
    • Reusable learning objects on academic skills
The work focuses on enhancing social engagement and building networks between students prior to arrival as well as encouraging early academic engagement during the crucial first weks..
The University has two years of data and experience of using this approach. The most beneficial aspect so far has been the use of SaPRA – our reflective skills tool - which is increasingly being integrated into courses across the university.
This workshop will showcase Develop Me! and offer participants an opportunity to reflect on how they may wish to incorporate elements of this approach into their own practice.
This session will be a participative workshop which will enable participants to:

  • Understand how these online system work
  • Reflect on the issues surrounding the development of these activities
  • Hear what students have to say about engaging in these systems
  • Develop an understanding of how to approach embedding this type of activity within their institution


Currant, R. and Keenan, C. (2008) Evaluating Systematic Transition to HE, Presentation at the 5th LDHEN Symposium, University of Bradford 17 and 18 March 2008
Tinto, V. (1993) Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Supporting Students in the 21st Century!
By WellBeing @ UEL

Miller, J.

The use of innovative (and cost-effective) technologies and practices has dramatically expanded our ability to meet the changing needs of our diverse student body. Student support and retention no longer happens exclusively in the academic classroom, or even on campus!

Today’s students live vastly different lives from those of previous generations. Many students work full-time jobs in addition to studying, and family / caring responsibilities. Other students never even set foot on campus and take all their courses via distance. Accordingly, these dramatic changes in our students and their expectations required us to radically adapt our way of providing student support services to all students regardless of where they happened to live or study. We couldn’t have done it successfully without technology.

This workshop will allow you to experience some of the latest technologies and practices we utilise at UEL to support student success and retention. Workshop participants will benefit from a demonstration of the various tools and methodologies and gain firsthand understanding on how e-learning will potentially contribute to student overall success and retention. We hope that after an overview of our practices you will be able to develop a concrete plan of implementing the technologies that might work for you and your students.

Workshop Overview

1. Wellbeing Team at UEL

· Initial Support Consultations: what they are and why we use them
· Critical Incident Team: how we respond to critical incidents
· TLC @ UEL (Time Limited Counselling) at UEL: why less is more

2. Selected Tools We Use

Text—the universal language of University students:
· Appointment Reminders
· Advertising Workshops
· Check-in System

Skype—free video conferencing and chat

· Online Counselling / Initial Support Consultation
· Group Collaboration via chat
· Critical Incident Notification

Wikis / Blogs / VLE integration—information delivery

· Interactive Healthy Lifestyle Module
· WellBeing Blog

3. ÜWBI (The University WellBeing Initiative)
· What it is?
· How you can take part?

4. Questions and Discussion


A Student Support system in Second Life
Garfield J. Southall, University of Chester
J. Bubb, University of Chester
C.Hankinson, University of Chester

Some 75% of UK universities are actively developing or using Second Life for educational projects (1). Most projects seek to emulate the classroom experience and some others probe the psychological nature of the participant (2).
Our project studies the possibility of creating a Student Support lounge in Second Life, which students can access 24/7 and obtain advice from a wide range of sources – including peers who also happen to be online.
The property comprises three areas : a Lounge, a Library and a private room. The Lounge is where peers can meet and chat, leave messages and has a direct link from the main institution site. The Library comprises formal and informal information; from institutional rules and guidance to (moderated) help sheets from students and staff. The format can be video, audio, as well as document.
The private room will allow direct (avatar to avatar) discussion with a member of the student support staff. Where staff are unavailable, bookings can be made, messages left and links followed to other 24/7 facilities (Samaritans etc).
A unique feature we are hoping to integrate is the validation of a learners Institution ID from their Second Life ID.
We will report on our progress on this fascinating project and (hopefully) visit the site live.

(1) Eduserv report “A Spring 2008 'snapshot' of UK Higher and Further Education Developments in Second Life.
(2) 101 Uses of Second Life in the College Classroom. Dr. Megan S Conklin, February 2007

Virtual Mentor: an innovation in student support
Joanne Smailes, Pat Gannon-Leary, Christopher Laing and Lynne Conniss, Northumbria University

Peer Mentoring is well established means of support for first year students (Farrell et al. 2004, Green, 2007) which increases student retention and engagement at a relatively low cost (Boud et al, 2001; Hodges and White, 2001). Many of the existing peer mentoring models are based on face to face contact between more experienced students acting as mentors and first year students as the mentees. However, research conducted by Northumbria University indicated that although the principles of peer mentoring were welcomed they felt access to a mentee was only required sporadically. However, access to the University’s Virtual Learning Environment is a day to day to occurrence (Gannon-Leary and McDowell, 2003). Social Networking Sites such as Facebook are now a global phenomenon (Bausch and Han, 2006) and their role within the students learning experiences becoming of increasing interest (Licaardi et al., 2007). Therefore, this paper explores the potential for virtual learning environments or social networking sites to complement or potentially replace the existing face-to face models of peer mentoring and discusses the factors which may inhibit the introduction of virtual peer mentoring.

Bausch, S, and Han, L. (2006) Social Networking sites grow 47 percent, year over year, reaching 45 percent of web users [Accessed 25th June 2008]
Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (2001). Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other. Adult Education Quarterly, 53 (1): 65-66.
Farrell, H., Pastore, C., Handa, N., Dearlove, J., & Spalding, E. (2004). Initiating the battlers. Proceedings of the ISANA Conference 2004. December 2004, Melbourne.
Gannon-Leary, P. and McDowell, L (2003) ENABLE: an evaluation of Northumbria’s Adoption of the Blackboard Learning Environment. Newcastle, Northumbria University
Green, A, (2007) Peer Assisted Learning: empowering first year engagement with a formal curriculum through the educative, [Accessed 23rd June 2008]
Hodges, R., & White, W. (2001). Encouraging high-risk student participation in tutoring and Supplemental Instruction. Journal of Developmental Education, 24, 2-10, 43.
Liccardi, I., Ounnas, A., Pau, R., Massey, E., Kinnunen, P., Lewthwaite, S. Midy, M., Sarkar, C. (2007) The role of social networks in students’ learning
experiences, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 39 (4): 224-237

Using E Learning as part of Pre – Entry activities to increase retention: a case study
Rory Daly and Hilary Thomas, Lancaster University

The PASSPORT to Higher Education Programme prepares students for the transition between school, college or the workplace, and university. This validated, month long programme, based at Lancaster University, introduces students to living, learning, researching and being assessed in a HE environment before they start their undergraduate life. It is directed at, and serves as a supplementary route into HE for, students who meet traditional Widening Participation criteria such as being the first in the family to attend HE, being from a group underrepresented in HE or living with a disability.
Traditionally, meeting these criteria would suggest that PASSPORT students would be more likely to not complete their degree than their peers. Recent, preliminary research, however, suggests that PASSPORT plays a significant role in raising these students’ retention rates when they progress to HE with the rates being notably higher than the national average for this cohort.
We suggest that PASSPORT does this by strategically addressing factors identified as key to the retention of HE students: learning support, academic development, debt and health advice, social integration (Cook et al 2006) and also the use of technology to enhance learning and as a social tool. Furthermore past participants agree it enhances the first year experience, which has been identified (Yorke and Longden 2004) as crucial for an enjoyable and academically successful university experience.
In this paper we will focus on the relationship of the use of technology to the success of the programme in recent years. At different stages in the programme (including prior to commencement) Passport makes use of a web based chat room (yougofurther), Web 2 technology (Facebook), mobile technology (texting) and a Domino-based Virtual Learning Environment. We will show the ways that these have affected the programme (drawing on findings from focus groups and interviews with past students); the approach to learning that they support and the range of social interactions that they allow.
To conclude we will attempt to make sense of our experience by reference to models and issues of teaching and learning (Salmon’s ‘Five-step model of online teaching and learning; ubiquitous computing; formal and informal learning; relevance of learning to students’ goals and interests); and draw out what we regard as implications for good practice.
Cook, A, Rushton, B.S. and Macintosh, K.A, eds. (2006), Student Transition and Retention. University of Ulster, Coleraine, 92 pp, accessed July 10th 2008
Yorke, M, & Longden, B, (2004) Retention and Student Success in Higher Education, Maidenhead, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University,
Salmon, G & Giles G (1997) - Moderating Online
accessed 31st July 2008

Mapping the Territory: overview of project
Annamarie McKie
Linda Griffiths,
Rachel Kitchen
Anne Caron Delion

Traditionally library and learning services have offered information literacy workshops that teach students how to “ source, navigate, select , retrieve, manipulate and manage information from a variety of sources”[1] . Inevitably because of timetable constraints these sessions often focus on equipping students with a core set of library “tools” at critical points in their course ; these tools, which include key electronic resources, guides on referencing, plagiarism and lists of resources by subject area, are usually explored by the students during the session and are all located within a library web site. Attendance at these sessions varies by subject, but generally many young scholars perceive themselves as expert searchers already, so may see little need for extra help when Google always seems to provide the answers.
At the same time, there is an appreciation that there are a specific set of information behaviours needed by the researcher of the future[2]; todays students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. A recent study commissioned by the British Library and JISC on this subject, reveals young scholars who are ‘horizontal’ in their information seeking; bouncing, skimming ,cutting and pasting their way through the internet: “Students usually approach their research without regard to the library’s structure or the way that library segments different resources into different areas of its website” and favour power browsing and ‘quick wins’ over the more analytical search strategies taught in library sessions.
To add to this picture, there is the nature of knowledge in art and design itself. Research suggests that there is a difference between studying subjects that deal with facts (hard) and those subjects that deal with concepts and opinions (soft). Students majoring in soft fields (art and design) are perhaps less likely to subscribe to beliefs in absolute knowledge. As Biglan (1973) suggests “the humanities…in contrast, tend to be…encouraging a view of knowledge as a matter of interpretation..”. To add to this picture, art and design students, may have chosen their subject because they perceive themselves as ‘makers’ rather than ‘academics’; research in this context may not just be information behaviour but also visiting exhibitions and experimenting in the studio.
Significant skills gaps are thus emerging, most notably in students’ abilities to construct focused search queries and the small amount of time they spend in evaluating information, either for relevance, accuracy or authority. Such skills could be very desirable when it comes to employment.

Our research so far has concentrated on an extensive literature review of current research on inquiry based learning, information behaviour, the nature of knowledge in art and design and behaviourist/cognitivist theories. We have also conducted a series of focus groups at the Maidstone and Canterbury campuses asking students how they currently research for written work and how they would view library workshops if they were directly linked to their employability.

A new style of information literacy workshop is beginning to emerge at the University College for the Creative Arts. Drawing on cognitivist theories, experiential learning and our own research, the library has linked up with key academic tutors and Study Advisers, to provide a more collaborative (rather than didactic) style of research workshop. The 90 minute sessions, which are facilitated by an Academic Liaison Librarian and a Study Adviser, can accommodate collective working, group working and hands on experience.
Students work through a set of stages in research, including:

  • being able to identify a topic of interest
  • information searching and retrieval
  • evaluation
  • critical analysis
  • interpretation
  • research synthesis

These workshops are “mapped” into Year One and Year Two of a course, so that by their final year, a student should have developed a ‘portfolio’ of information behaviours that considerably enhance their potential as an active researcher.

The next stages of the research are to link up with current practitioners in this area and explore further links with employability and student retention.

[1] HEA Employability profile for art and design. 2006
[2] Information behaviour of the researcher of the future (Ciber briefing paper) 2008

Reading for a degree in an e-environment
Penny Dale, Bournemouth University

Students are growing up “in a world in which computers are part of life, (they) like to multi-task and are used to continuous communication, through texting, phone calls and e-mail, and instant access to multiple sources information via the Internet” (Newland et al, 2006) .Indeed, rather than being defined by its physical contents and services, the academic library has become a place to learn that is constantly adapting and changing. To maximize retention, libraries must reflect “what the student does” (Biggs, 2007).

This paper will consider what it means to read for a degree in a digital environment. An extensive search of the literature has shown that there has been little research on reading strategies and academic skills development in a digital environment.

Pathfinder funding from the Higher Education Academy has enabled BU to explore e-reading strategies, using case studies which describe how new technologies are being used to enhance students’ learning experiences.

Successful E-reading strategies encourage deep learning, contribute to critical thinking and encourage autonomy. The interactive nature of the learning process in the electronic environment demands a broad view of academic literacy. Web 2.0 technologies necessitate a re-evaluation of how students acquire and develop academic literacy skills. The paper will consider how Web 2.0 technologies contribute to the acquisition and development of academic literacy skills.
Reading e-books has not reached the maturity and acceptance associated with e-journal use and there are differing views of the challenges of moving from print to e-books. At Bournemouth University (BU) book issues have declined by 28% between 2002/3 and 2006/7 whilst usage of full text books and journals during the same period has increased by 146%.

This evidence suggests that students are accessing a greater and wider range of materials, The paper will consider how academic literacy can contribute to the identification, access and use of relevant academic resources and promote autonomous learning.

Hand-held devices and page-turning software are beginning to impact positively on the acceptance of e-books. Integration of reading material into virtual learning environments is facilitating the process. In 2009 a new library for postgraduate business students will open without any books, but with each student equipped with an e-book reader. The paper will discuss what support and skills students will need to read for a degree in an environment that is completely electronic.

Biggs, J., ed. 2007. Teaching for quality learning at university. 3rd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Newland, B. Jenkins, M. Ringan, N., 2006. Academic experiences of using VLEs: overarching lessons for preparing and supporting staff. In: O’Donoghue, J., ed. Technology supported learning and teaching: a staff perspective. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing, 34-50.

Helping students to help themselves
Fitzgibbon, K. & Prior, J.

Students who enter Higher Education (HE) for the first time are sometimes ill-prepared for the experience and can need a higher level of assistance, and successful student transition into HE is a recognised factor impacting on student retention (Stolk et al 2007, Wilcox 2007). Information supplied during busy induction periods does not always register with students, and when they encounter a problem or difficulty they have often forgotten the range of help and support available.

Using QuestionMark Perception (QMP) the authors developed two separate learner support tools (‘Early Days’ and ‘Study Health Check’). Both tools provided immediate automated feedback, designed for students to self-assess their orientation and transition into the University. By employing an online approach, students would not have to know who to speak to, or need to explain their circumstances or concerns but could access information and act on the automated feedback received. A further aim was to encourage students to independently reflect on their university experiences, to better understand the culture and requirements for successful study in HE.

‘Early Days’ is made available in the first term and focuses on students’ integration into their studies and transitional issues faced when joining higher education. The ‘Study Health Check’, released in the spring term, questions students’ use and understanding of academic resources, how they are coping with the demands of HE and independent study and their balance between socialising, study and other commitments (Fitzgibbon & Prior 2007).

Each learner support tool provides an opportunity for students to assess their level of familiarity with university protocols as well as a range of questions designed to ensure they optimise their studies, by highlighting the importance of consistent attendance, the time they are committing to personal study, and so on.

These learner support tools have been demonstrated to positively impact on the student experience. Additionally the data from the completed exercises has improved the University’s understanding of students’ awareness and perceptions of corporate and support departments; and students’ academic and social experiences. Information gained from student responses will help to shape student support provision and future retention initiatives.

Delegates will have the opportunity, post-conference, to try the exercises for themselves and consider the transferability of these innovative online learner support tools to their own institutions. Alternatives to QMP are widely available through assessment or suvey engines within visual learning environments or by using free products such as Hot Potatoes and Quandry.

Fitzgibbon K & Prior D J, (2007) ‘Students’ early experiences and university interventions – a timeline to aid undergraduate student retention’ Journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning Vol 8, No 3 pp 17 -27
Stolk, C. v., J. Tiessen, et al. (2007). Student Retention in Higher Education Courses, International Comparison. Santa Monica, RAND Corporation.
Wilcox, P., S. Winn, et al. (2005). "'It was nothing to do with the university, it was just the people': the role of social support in the first-year experience of higher education." Studies in Higher Education 30(6): 707-722.

Making Narrative and Visual Sense of Learning
Roy Williams
Simone Gumtau
Regina Karousou

Christina Howell-Richardson

How do students make connections between their learning as individual actors and as part of academic and professional communities of practice?
And how can this be expressed and articulated by the students, so their voice is represented to themselves, to researchers, and to others with minimal bias from the research process?

The Affordances for Learning research project explores student experience and widening participation issues with Foundation Degree students in a blended learning environment. We approach the question of retention in terms of whether the student perseveres in the system rather than whether the system retains the student.

We use narrative approaches in the core, story telling part of the research to enable students to articulate their own, often tacit, understandings. These stories can then be reflected on dispassionately: the student can step back from their personal involvement and see themselves in a wider context.

However, if we limit ourselves to textual exchanges, this may disadvantage certain students, and limit the types of interactions that are possible. Not all learners benefit from textual modes, so exploring multimodal e-learning approaches expands the communicative potential for interaction within learning contexts.

We believe that it is crucial to find out how students make sense of their learning to understand the dynamics of student retention and perseverance. We have found that students use images within their stories that often reveal a particular epistemological stance, for example their vision of their ‘learning journey’ could be a straight line, several convoluted lines, or even a labyrinth.

We can extend the communicative range of the way students explore their learning by introducing interactive interfaces for the students to use to create visual metaphors to express what may be difficult to express in words. This also serves another function: choosing or creating visuals unblocks further areas of implicit knowledge which might have been difficult for the learner to access. Tacit knowledge is inherently difficult to verbalise, so providing other ways of sensory expression, not bound to linguistic description, may free up channels into the knowledge we ‘did not know we had’.

This research adds another dimension to the way we understand the link between the use of e-learning media and student retention. It integrates rich empirical accounts of the way students persevere in their learning with multi-modal opportunities for students to explore and enhance the way they make sense of their learning.