Building a Sense Of Belonging in students: Using a participatory approach with staff to share academic practice


  • Susan Smith Leeds Beckett University
  • Ruth Pickford
  • Lyn Edwards
  • Janice Priestley
  • Rebecca Sellers
  • Georgi Sinclair



Belonging, Academic Practice, Participatory Action Research.


This paper outlines ongoing work undertaken by a university educational development team to strengthen and share colleagues’ academic practice in relation to inclusive learning and teaching activities interventions. The paper outlines our institutional “Fora” structure (coordinated by The Centre for Learning and Teaching) and, taking one of the three Forum events as a modelled example, shows how consideration of the research literature informed colleagues’ discussion and catalysed the sharing of written and oral best practice through participatory action research (PAR) to ultimately build a resource guide. This paper specifically focuses on exploring the different approaches that colleagues adopted to build their students’ “sense of belonging” (both for the face to face and online experiences). A student’s perceived strong sense of belonging to their university can be a core factor in enhancing student satisfaction, engagement and retention (Pickford, 2016; Thomas, 2014). Critique and consideration of Ahn & Davis’ s (2019) four domains of belonging formed the starting point for the discussion. Digital tools and pedagogic approaches sourced from colleagues who have found them valuable in developing student engagement and belonging during the Covid-19 crisis are also explored.

Author Biography

Susan Smith, Leeds Beckett University

I am Head of Curriculum Review & Development, an academic post at Leeds Beckett University. I'm based in the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Leeds Beckett University. I am widely published.


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