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Social Media in Higher Education

Chris Rowell

Part Five. Building networks

15. Creating a Sense of Belonging and Connectedness for the Student Arrival Experience in a School of Arts and Humanities

Rachel Challen

Texte intégral

#Beginner #Facebook #FacebookLive


1This chapter outlines the use of Facebook Live in September 2017, to connect with new students prior to their arrival on campus in their first semester. The aim of this approach was to contribute towards creating the conditions in which a community culture could continue to develop within our Arts and Humanities curriculum. Social media formed one initiative within a tripartite strategies (two of which built on existing practices which happen post-arrival) designed to create a nurturing environment, encouraging community, a sense of belonging, and connectedness. Data show that in January 2018, following these initiatives, all first-year student withdrawals were reduced in comparison to the same point in the previous year. The Facebook Live approach attracted 5,600 views and 2,470 comments, likes and shares from September 2017 to December 2017.

Why Does Belonging Matter?

2Belonging and community have long been identified as key areas that can impact on retention and engagement in HE (Foster et al., 2011, Thomas, 2012), especially in the early stages of undergraduate study, where careful consideration must be given to eliminating conditions which may promote alienation (Mann, 2001) and ultimately lead to withdrawal from university. Providing opportunities for students to ‘negotiate their new identities’ and build initial relationships regardless of their eventual longevity is vital in the early days of the transition into university life: the fear of not being able to build friendships was found by Wilcox, Winn and Fyvie-Gauld (2005) in their empirical study to be the main anxiety for students. To minimise this anxiety in the School of Arts and Humanities, which offers a highly personalised undergraduate degree with both single and joint honours available, the School has developed three new activities — including the Facebook Live event — which were designed to minimise any sense of isolation and encourage students on different courses to get to know one another. The aim was to create an environment in which the successful transition into university life is made easier by engaging students in a supportive social culture. The three activities were designed to align with the following transition success factors, identified by Yorke and Thomas (2003, p. 72):

  • an institutional climate supportive in various ways of students’ development, that is perceived as ‘friendly’;

  • an emphasis on support leading up to, and during, the critically important first-year of study;

  • an emphasis on formative assessment in the early phase of programmes;

  • a recognition of the importance of the social dimension in learning activities;

  • recognition that the pattern of students’ engagement in higher education is changing, and a preparedness to respond positively to this in various ways.

3The trio of events included the structured Facebook Live event that took place pre-arrival, a welcome week including a networking party immediately after arrival, and Personal Tutorial Groups embedded throughout the first academic year. The formal induction event was redesigned as a welcome week that focussed more on community-building than information-giving, and placed students at the centre of the experience to promote a sense of belonging and mutual respect, with the hope of reducing instances of social isolation. The structure and content of the Personal Tutor Group were revisited to encourage activities that were more pastoral and less saturated with information to make them more valuable to students. Research by Irwin and Knight (2017) finds that ‘welcoming, committed staff and a sense of community with fellow students were factors which were felt to promote belonging’; nurturing and enforcing feelings of mattering which Rosenberg (in Schlossberg, 1989) suggests does determine behaviour.

4However, acclimatisation activities in welcome week and first-year pastoral support in Personal Tutor Groups are obviously only available after students have arrived on campus. There are still practical anxieties that can have a negative effect on social engagement in that first week if not addressed before arrival, and this concern was the motivation for the Facebook Live project.

Facebook Live as the Connector

5Facebook is a popular social media platform in the UK: 30 million people access Facebook on their mobile devices every day and 70 % of 16–22–year–olds report that they use Facebook (McGrory, 2018). In addition to market reach, Facebook was chosen for this project because it links directly to the school’s enrolment and marketing strands, and all enrolled students are invited to join the Arts and Humanities Facebook page. Since the audience had chosen to be connected to the School on social media, it was likely that they would be interested in a message transmitted through this channel. The intention of the pre-arrival event was to engage first-year students in a real life, as well as online, community and provide a supported transition bridge into successful university life.

6Social media was used to develop students’ attachment and the sense of connectedness to the Arts and Humanities School before arriving on campus; this gave us the opportunity to utilize the concept of converging media (Meikle and Young, 2012) where multiple media forms are blended into one platform, with the broadcast element provided by Facebook Live and the personal communication method by Facebook comments. This method allows the presenter of the Facebook Live event to build individual social identities of the members of the group, which contributes heavily to the students sense of self and helps to shape how students start to align with others in the group (Brown, 2000). This in turn builds ‘a collective intentionality based on social facts’ (Searle, 1996, p. 38) helping to establish the expectations the School has of the students and the expectations the students have of the School regarding study, thus building a practical consciousness (Giddens, 2014) of how to cooperate, cope and get things done. To underpin this, the Facebook Live event was developed to show key facilities on campus, the subject buildings and active learning classrooms, and to introduce academic and support staff that students would encounter and could ask for help if needed. This gave an opportunity to create social bonds, reduce anxiety, and break down barriers for new incoming students.

Planning and Implementing a Facebook Live Event


7Although the whole feel of the Facebook Live event was intentionally informal and relaxed, it took a lot of planning and collaboration between the academic team and marketing department of the School, and the university’s video content team. It was important that the message achieved the aims outlined above, and so a series of storyboards were created and refined, one of these was chosen to structure the event. The rejected versions were judged to be too focused on marketing. The intended student audience had already confirmed their place and were due on campus the week after the event was due to take place; any attempt to sell the university was unnecessary and irrelevant to the message. The approach we chose allowed the School to ‘address a specific audience — or at least know that there is a generic interest in the message’ (Couldry, 2012, p. 64).

8The final storyboard focused on reducing anxiety by showing students the spaces they would be inhabiting; introducing them to key administrative staff whom they would see regularly and who could help them with their most pressing enquiries; and interviewing academic staff from different departments to explain what the first week would be like, including their expectations of the students, the first steps the students would take in their studies, and the responsibilities of the School towards the student. Contributing to the aim of breaking down barriers, Dr Karen Randell, Deputy Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, took on the role of ‘guide’ throughout the event. Joseph Walther’s (1996) model of hyperpersonal computer-mediated communication indicates that online visual interactions form stronger impressions of presenters’ personalities, as the visual cues stimulate a more positive response from the receiver. However, since ‘the performance of an individual accentuates certain matters and conceals others’ (Goffman, 1959, p. 67), it was important that the storyboard and script was collectively written and produced so it accurately reflected the experience that students could expect.

9The event was timed to be of twenty minutes’ duration, which is the optimum length recommended by Facebook, to give opportunity for followers of the page to see the video in their news feed and view it live if they had forgotten it was happening — the longer run time therefore enhances the probability of more viewers. The storyboard preparation ensured smooth transitions between the key spaces, rooms and staff that were featured. A written representation of the storyboard is given below:

Fig. 15.1 Rachel Challen, Written representation of the storyboard (2018), CC BY 4.0


Areas Visited


An overview of the campus

To show the layout of the campus and where key items or activities could be found; for example the student union building, the refectory, and the bookshop.

Walking from the centre of campus to the main Arts and Humanities building

To provide visual directions and memorable landmarks that would give confidence to students navigating their first day.


On arrival to the Arts and
Humanities building, viewers were introduced to the receptionist to reassure students that they could get help finding rooms or buildings. The school administration team were also introduced as the place to get help with any study-related queries.
Staff: Building receptionist, school administration receptionist.

Technician support

Media practice is a module option available to students, so the media kit and technician were introduced to give an insight into the support available.
Staff: Media Technician.

Introduction to key staff and areas.

PC space, Media Labs, DJ room and Language Labs

A tour of the teaching rooms available on the ground floor of the building ended in the Language Labs, highlighting the support and community available for those who wish to study a language as part of their course.
Staff: Principle Lecturer in Spanish / Personalisation Manager.

Global Lounge

The Global Lounge Manager is available to all students and leads the ‘Languages in Tandem’ initiative, highlighting the extracurricular opportunities and community available.
Staff: Global Lounge Manager.

Introduction to key staff and areas.


The last section focused on the academic and pastoral support available to students through modules and Personal
Tutor groups, with the aim of reassuring students that there was support and guidance available during all aspects of their university experience.
Staff: Head of English, Creative and
Media, Senior Lecturer in History.

Practice Runs

10Once the storyboard was in place, the whole team, including academic, marketing and video staff, did one practice run to check that the running order worked smoothly and to test technical aspects like Wi-Fi access and sound. Due to difficulties in Wi-Fi access the storyboard was amended after this practice run. A further practice was held with all the participants involved to give them an opportunity to become familiar with the questions they would be asked and where the camera and host would be placed in relation to them.

The Event

Fig. 15.2 Rachel Challen, Photo of (L-R) Dr Sharon Ouditt, Head of Department, English, Media and Creative Cultures; Dr Karen Randell, Deputy Dean; and Dr Nicholas Morton, Senior Lecturer in History (2018), CC BY 4.0

Fig. 15.2 Rachel Challen, Photo of (L-R) Dr Sharon Ouditt, Head of Department, English, Media and Creative Cultures; Dr Karen Randell, Deputy Dean; and Dr Nicholas Morton, Senior Lecturer in History (2018), CC BY 4.0

11For the event, there was a cameraman broadcasting to the Arts and Humanities Facebook page, using a smartphone and gimbal (a device that holds the phone steady and allows smooth tracking), with a tie mic attached to the main host, Dr Randell. As the broadcast was happening, there was also a second video technician who was listening live to the broadcast and could indicate if the Wi-Fi or sound had dropped.

12Throughout the live broadcast, an extra element of social bonding between host and viewers was encouraged in the style of an ongoing quiz in which viewers were asked a question (e.g. ‘the name of the Arts and Humanities building is “Mary Ann Evans” — what was her pen name?’) and the first person to add the correct answer to the comment section underneath won a prize to be collected from the Deputy Dean’s office when they arrived on campus. This narrative arc provided anchor points during and after the broadcast, helping to cement the personalised approach and provide authenticity to the event.

13The broadcast also set out to clarify the School’s expectations about teaching and learning and the engagement of students in university life, to help with early transitions and to ‘perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy that people in the group conform to the level expected of them’ (Brown, 2000, p. 75).

14This was the first time the Arts and Humanities school had trialled a Facebook Live event, and the reach and engagement of the video went well beyond expectations. The statistics two weeks after the broadcast showed:

  • Reach of Art and Humanities Facebook page: 12,650 people

  • Views: 5,600 (over 6,000 views when including Twitter, LinkedIn and WordPress).

  • Engagement: 2,100 post clicks, and 370 likes, comments and shares.

Reflection on the Approach Taken

15Even with the current (April 2018) concern over data mining, we still believe Facebook is an appropriate platform to use for future live video. Followers of the Arts and Humanities group page do not have access to the accounts or data of other followers, and so the information contained in these accounts remains private. This group approach therefore allows students to maintain their privacy before they arrive, so they can adapt to their new circumstances without anyone having preconceived ideas about them. This gives them the ability to make their first transitional steps towards building a community with a sense of freedom. However, it would be remiss to ignore the possibility that the approach taken by using Facebook Live could exacerbate the feeling of exclusion by its social media exclusivity and accessibility. This could happen when students do not have a Facebook account or simply do not want to engage in this type of communication. This was why it was a value-added approach and just one of three new or improved strategies that we employed in 2017–2018, combined with post-arrival activities including the welcome week and Personal Tutor groups. The data collected in January 2018 showed a reduction in withdrawals, indicating that student transitions into higher education have been more successful and the approaches instigated in 2017–2018 helped to nurture a sense of community, belonging and connectedness.

Next Steps

16As this was the first Facebook Live event attempted from this specific page, there is no comparable data to ascertain whether the views should be higher, and no correlation can be made between the number of views and the success of the project; success can only be evaluated with a longitudinal study following the new students through to the completion of their course and by qualitative research undertaken with current students about their experiences. Reflections from this year have led to changes in the approach for welcome week and Personal Tutor groups are being further defined, with students playing a big part in creating their own experiences. The Facebook Live video will be reused but in a different way; the recorded video will be chunked into topics and played as forerunner to a live question and answer session on different days, again with a range of staff hosting those sessions through the School Facebook page. These will also be recorded and placed on the group page, to act not only as a frequently-asked-questions section, but to further develop the sense of belonging and an inclusive culture, and to contribute to the reduction of any anxiety in the first weeks of attending university.



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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 15.2 Rachel Challen, Photo of (L-R) Dr Sharon Ouditt, Head of Department, English, Media and Creative Cultures; Dr Karen Randell, Deputy Dean; and Dr Nicholas Morton, Senior Lecturer in History (2018), CC BY 4.0
Fichier image/jpeg, 29k


passionate about the use of learning technology to support solid pedagogical curriculum design for over fourteen years in private, Further and Higher Education sectors and in that time has achieved Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) accreditation, an MSc in Multimedia and eLearning and gives back to the community as an editor of the ALT blog ( Rachel is currently the Head of the Learning and Teaching Support Unit within the School of Arts and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University and is an active member of the Nottingham Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching with membership of the ePortfolio Steering Group and the Digital Technologies Users Group; she also chairs the Flexible and Online Learning User Group. Jisc named Rachel as one of the top fifty Further Education social media users to follow and she can be found on Twitter @RKChallen or on her team blog


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