Storying student ecologies of belonging: a participatory research study of students’ interfacing with the Academy

This paper will explore how the contemporary lives of undergraduate students impact on their engagement with the Academy and, by implication, how the ways in which being a Higher Education student are incorporated into their current lifestyles. Framed within the broad topic of student engagement, the paper considers the evolving nature of the topic and its concomitant absence of student voice within the current literature (Trowler, 2010). At a time when universities, certainly those post-1992 universities, are endeavouring to compete with each other for student allegiance, the topic of student engagement is key to issues of retention, attainment, and progression; student attrition brings with it loss of revenue and subsequent reduction in statistical measures of success. The nature of what constitutes student engagement is therefore a necessary prerequisite in order that it can be effectively utilised. The ability to respond to students’ needs and welcome all comers is premised on the Academy being aware of current ways of being a student. This paper reports on a pilot study, within a professional doctoral thesis, of second year undergraduate students in a Faculty of Education as a way of uncovering student lives in the ‘here and now’ and gathering stories of how students engage with the Academy on an ongoing, everyday basis; this presents itself as a gap in the current literature. The research employs a narrative study of lives using participant action research methodology. Findings focus on the affective dimension of belonging where meanings ascribed to places are discursively constructed by students.

Trowler, V. (2010) Student engagement literature review. York, UK: HEA