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Planning and holding discussions about engagement with students


If you are considering holding a discussion with a student about engagement, you could start by considering the context - in some cases, you may have a general concern about a group’s engagement with a unit, in other cases, you may be concerned with the engagement of a particular student. How you manage the conversation depends on this context, and may determine who is best placed to have the conversation with the student(s) - this might be you, the tutor, a student support tutor, etc. Some conversations are best held with an individual, some are possible in small groups or as a whole group, but you will need to consider the implications and impact.

The next stage is for you to decide what you want the meeting or discussion to achieve.  Here are some of the possible starting points:

  • You may want to investigate why an individual student has not been engaging; you will probably have a greater chance of success if you adopt a ‘coaching model’ where you ask questions that are designed to support students in identifying their personal goals and in developing a strategy to meet them (as opposed to telling them what to do).
  • You want to create an opportunity for the student(s) to reflect on their engagement and discuss the challenges they might be facing.  Use the conversation as an opportunity to re-visit the delivery pattern of the unit / programme, and the possible impact of not engaging, often a student will not be aware of how much they have missed as a proportion of a unit etc.

Key themes that may need exploring

  • Motivation – what are the student’s hopes and aspirations?  How can their engagement help fulfil those?
  • What are their hopes for the unit / course / future, and how can you (& others) support them?
  • Are there things they want to change /improve, and how can they play a part in achieving these goals?
  • Many students will balancing study workload with family, work, social / community issues – they may or may not want to talk about these…  and whilst you may have a view about what is feasible, and the impact of say a part-time job is having on their studies, you cannot demand that they do things differently… they need to be able to understand the impact and make decisions


Think about the location of any individual meeting – from a safeguarding perspective, it should not be a lone tutor with a lone student behind a closed door.  At the same time, it should not be in a public space which would make it difficult if a student was upset . . . so think about location and who else is around, and also check with the student. They might have a preference?  As a tutor, you need to be aware of the confidential nature of discussions with students and ask their permission if you feel the need to seek guidance from other support teams or services.  The individual meeting will provide additional opportunities for a student to disclose particular issues they are facing and for individualised support to be provided.  There may be several issues that a student is facing and they are likely to talk about the least difficult first, so give them time and let them talk through without you responding too quickly. 

Focus the discussion on the specific unit that you have responsibility for, or, if the conversation is broader, explain that their feedback on other units will be communicated via the programme leader and the SSLC . . .

Starting points (useful phrases to start you off):
How are you finding the course / unit / experience so far? 
What aspects of the course / unit / experience do you enjoy / find useful in your learning and development?
What do you hope to get out of this course / unit / experience… are you on the right track to get there?

Ideal outcomes

  • The student appreciates why they have been invited to a meeting / the discussion and why we monitor attendance and Moodle engagement (evidence suggests that students who engage more have a better chance of achieving their goals).
  • The students recognise we do not view them as one homogenous group, but as individuals who have different views and priorities – for whom their degree outcome is a matter of personal endeavour, rather than statistical probability.
  • A sense of the difference and overlap between attendance and engagement, what makes it low, and let them know that you are aware of the factors that contribute to good and not so good attendance and engagement… and that you are supportive of any ways in which they can meet their personal goals.

Discussions should have the additional benefit of providing you with feedback on the course as experienced by your students, and develop stronger relationships between you and the students. Ideally, discussions which may have the potential for a negative focus, should instead adopt an appreciative enquiry approach, or use a coaching approach, e.g. the GROW model, to identify what is going well and then helping students to devise their own strategies for success (which they can hopefully feel good about).

See an animated explanation of the appreciative enquiry approach by Joh Townsin on YouTube. There is more information about coaching techniques including the GROW model in the Coaching section of this guide.

There is nothing wrong with pointing students in the right direction to find and try out a range of strategies for success that might work for them individually, but avoid telling them what they must do or what they are doing wrong.

Information you should make available to students

You might want to remind students how marks in each year contribute to their overall assessment (elements in the unit, the unit in the year, units this year in the overall assessment of their final award etc..) NB – this should be available in their student handbook. 

Make sure students are aware of:

  • who they can / should speak to if they are struggling in any way and point them towards the online help available
  • how to access information about time management, e.g. how to access the time management section of Skills online on Moodle
  • information about their timetable over the remainder of the year, the assessment schedule, lead up to final assessments, and how to make use of timetable gaps in their day and / or study leave.
  • how to feedback to course reps about any aspects of the course and what groups consider student feedback, e.g. Staff Student Liaison Committees.
  • how to access wider student support available if they need it (personal tutor, Hubs, Student Support Services, SU), website.

As long as it is not couched in terms of ‘telling off’ it can be useful to ensure students know what will happen if engagement continues to be poor – will continue to follow up and if students either don’t hand coursework in or achieve less than 40% they will be automatically placed in the Students at Risk of Failure procedure… And the reason we do this is to enable strategies to be put in place at an early point to help them be successful in their studies.

Phrases, language and sentiments to avoid

  • Generally, try to avoid using negative language, as this will put students on the defensive.
  • Based on your current levels of engagement you are unlikely to achieve anything more than a low 2:2 or worse . . .
  • We know you are making sacrifices to come to university and you need to make the most of the opportunity in order to get a good degree and a great job… Do not make assumptions… they may be making sacrifices or not.
  • Why should I attend?’ . . .  ‘Because I said so!