Inform article
Students at Abertay University
Creative Commons attribution information
Students at Abertay University
©Jisc and Matt Lincoln

Supporting students to stick with university

Abertay University and Jisc share an ambition: to make higher education flexible, accessible and welcoming for everyone – no matter who they are and where they come from.

We’ve been working together to improve campus technology and student experience.

Creative Commons attribution information
James Nicholson
©Jisc and Matt Lincoln

James Nicholson, Abertay University’s director of student services, said:

“I believe around 20% more students are using the library since we’ve taken the ‘sticky campus’ approach.

“There’s been a cultural change too. Students are starting to know they can use any space in the university if teaching isn’t going on.”

According to James, students are encouraged not only to see computers and software as ‘teaching facilities’ but to make use of them outside of class.

“That’s an important part of being at university,” he says.

These shifts have happened since the university took on an ambitious project to update some of their learning spaces, including redesigning the library and adding state of the art technology and a blend of formal and informal spaces. The motivation came from a new strategic plan to improve student progression, retention and attainment.

Making the most of campus life

The student population at Abertay University bucks trends. Of the students who are from Scotland, a massive 96% went to state school. Many come from deprived backgrounds and are the first in their families to go to university. Over 60% are local or ‘commuter students’, who travel in to campus each day and have jobs and other commitments.

Encouraging these students to fully engage with university life, spend more time on campus, and achieve the best possible results can be challenging. To make it happen, they need a strong sense of belonging and connectedness with their peers and lecturers. The university environment needs to feel welcoming and flexible.

Ian Simpson, director of operations, Abertay University, said:

“We were looking to not only attract students to campus, but keep them there, even outside of their scheduled teaching time. 

"That way, they’re still learning and are able to take advantage of what we can offer.”

In 2016, Alastair Robertson, director of teaching and learning enhancement, attended the Jisc sticky campus roadshow. He said:

“That was quite a catalyst for us.

“We started to adopt the sort of technology on display at the roadshow and used many of the principles in our campus renovations.”

A sticky campus improves student life

Redesigned spaces at Abertay encourage students to study, relax and interact.

In the creative design suite, students can view digital content at individual tables wirelessly, as well as being connected to a group screen at the front of the room. Video conferencing means students can collaborate with their peers in the room and those off campus. James1, one of the students who has used the new space, said:

“You get more of an opportunity to broaden your horizons and see what people’s opinions are in other discussion group."

The suites have ‘whiteboard’ style walls that students and staff can write on, which inspires creativity and interaction.

“The rooms are great for creative work. It’s easy to visualise your materials and we have the ability to write on the walls, which is really cool,”

says Asha2 another student who enjoys the space.

“In a traditional classroom or lecture hall, students can be afraid to ask questions – they don’t want to interrupt the lecturer. That’s not the case in this classroom, you have the opportunity to be in contact with other students and the lecturer. It improves the way groups can work together, and the lecturer can explain things.”

As well as encouraging students to collaborate, the spaces promote independent working. Students can book areas in the library to practise presentations and do mock interviews without being interrupted. They can use recording tools to review their performance, improving their skills, confidence and job prospects.

A virtual classroom facility gives students who can’t make it on to campus a sense of belonging.

Creative Commons attribution information
Moriamo Oduyemi
©Jisc and Matt Lincoln

Moriamo Oduyemi, head of corporate information systems, says students will be able to take ownership of this virtual classroom and use it for their own activities, like managing student societies.

"The social interaction element of these spaces is as important as the academic side. We’re hoping some of the tools students are using for their learning can be used effectively for that as well.”

From a blank page to a winning formula

We worked with Abertay to shape the sticky campus renovation project, attending workshops and offering guidance. James said:

“Jisc was involved from the discovery stages when we were looking at what other organisations were doing and what was happening in the sector.

“They encouraged us to think how we could make digital technology part of the curriculum.”

The team found the Jisc student digital experience tracker useful when they compared what they were doing with other institutions. Alastair said:

“The tracker has been fantastic for benchmarking, as well as getting staff and student feedback on our learning spaces.” 

Our consultants took part in the university’s workshops for staff to look at what they needed from redesigned classrooms.

“A lot of the initiatives that came out of that workshop fed into the final decision-making,” says James.

Ian used our Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit to guide discussions with colleagues on how to create the new environments. He said:

“It’s very difficult to get people to discuss what they might want in a physical space when you start with a blank sheet of paper.

“It’s much easier when there are examples they can use to think about what would work.”

For the new spaces to be a success, the university needed excellent wifi coverage throughout the campus. This was taken care of by our Janet Network. Alastair said:

“There were other small things too that really added up in our planning of spaces, like making sure there were enough power points for students to charge their laptops between classes.”

“The traditional classroom set up is no longer good enough”

Alastair says that upscaling digital literacy for staff was another big driver for the sticky campus project. He believes the new spaces, and technology, have inspired teaching and learning. He said:  

“They offer a much richer set of pedagogies and higher quality student experience than traditional lectures and tutorials.

"It’s opening up new avenues for staff to engage with students, which is critical.”

Adopting the sticky campus approach has allowed the university to stay relevant in a competitive market.

“The traditional classroom set up is no longer good enough,” says Ian.

“Our students have already been exposed to some of this technology at school. So having this modernised approach to classroom space is one that students are expecting and demanding.”

How can we support you?

If you’d like the sticky campus roadshow to come to your university, or you want to find out more about our workshops, please contact Duncan Peberdy (duncan.peberdy@jisc.ac.uk).

Footnotes

  • 1 Student names have been changed
  • 2 Student names have been changed