The role of tutoring in fostering community belonging to support students’ persistence with their studies during Covid campus closures

Isabel Hallam (University Centre South Devon)

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

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Session Outline

Student persistence is the ‘quality that allows someone to continue in pursuit of a goal even when challenges arise’ (Tinto, 2017a). Traditional models of student persistence acknowledge the interaction of sociological, psychological, and educational factors that impact on a student’s capacity to persistence with their studies to completion. But Tinto’s (2017b) model shifts the focus onto the psychological conceptions influencing students’ persistence, representing the interaction of motivation, goals, self-efficacy, belonging, and the perceived worth or relevance of the curriculum.

A sense of belonging is the subjective feeling a student has towards being personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the learning environment (Goodenow, 1993). Pokorney, Holley and Kane (2017) recognised the importance of social relations to student belonging. The social relationship, or rapport, corresponds with academic staff being highly approachable, having “sufficient interpersonal skills” and taking the initiative to establish the relationship (Kember, Lee & Li, 2001). The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between personal tutors and their students during the Covid campus closures, investigating how that relationship influenced students’ sense of belonging and their persistence with their studies.

A series of 13 longitudinal online focus groups took place with ten higher education students during the first Covid campus closures in mid-2020. Reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2021) was undertaken on the focus group transcripts, with themes identified regarding students’ perception of how their tutors fostered their sense of belonging and community, and the impact this had on their persistence.

Findings indicated support for belonging’s key role in Tinto’s (2017b) model of student persistence, with participants identifying the notion of ‘all being in the same boat’ as central to their relationship their tutor and peers when campuses were closed. Further, the genuine connection that students felt between themselves and their tutors facilitated the sense of belonging.

This presentation will discuss the research, its findings, and implications for personal tutoring practice. Attendees will be encouraged to reflect on their own tutoring practice during challenging times and share their experiences with others.