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RAISE Conference 2023: Arden University’s Volunteer Lecturing Assistant Scheme: Impact on Belonging for Distance-Learning StudentsParticipant Quotes

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Research Team:

  • Holly Amber Stokes (Lecturer in Psychology and staff project lead)
  • Kieron Oakland (Lecturer in Psychology and staff project co-lead)
  • Kim-Marie Crown: Student Project Lead)
  • Bethany Wainwright: Lecturer in Psychology
  • Gemma Pearson: Student Research Assistant
  • Anuksha Khawaja: Student Research Assistant
  • Kenosi Cloete-Jones: Student Research Assistant

Click here to navigate to other project resources

Creating and Sustaining Community in an Isolating Distance Learning Space

Support, Investment and Encouragement: The Making of a Community

How does the Volunteer Lecturing Assistant scheme impact student community and belonging in the distance-learning setting?

Bridging the Gap: Students Helping Students

Creating and Sustaining Community in an Isolating Distance Learning Space

"I really did like the aspect of having to public speak a little bit more, having to work with like a team and everything because when you're just a student, you don't really have the experience of working as a team because you're just on your own" - Sam, Student VLA

"When you're trying to study distance learning on your own at home, it can be quite lonely, so that was that was invaluable... Potentially one of the biggest things I got out of it was actually the social interaction and I feel. I feel like I belong more to the Arden community now, as corny as that sounds" - Margaret, Student VLA

"Before them [the schemes they are involved in], I didn't really speak to anyone else, so I think it's made me connect with a lot of other students" - Bonnie, Student VLA

"Because online you don't really talk much with your classmates and stuff so you don't really talk about the subjects and stuff" - Mary, Student VLA

"on the downside, I have found it very difficult to get back into the swing of things as a student since. I particularly miss the wonderful sense of community and support that was created for us" - Bethany, Student VLA

Key Points:

  • The distance-learning space can be isolating; it does not automatically offer spaces for socialisation
  • The VLA scheme provided a unique opportunity for forming connections
  • The sense of community was localised to the scheme for some, and extended to the feeling part of the wider university for others

"and why I think it's so important because we know distance learning sometimes can be a little bit harder to build those. It takes effort to build those relationships and keep them" - Wendy, VLA Support Staff Member

Key Points:

  • The VLA community was supportive and encouraging
  • The quality of staff-VLA relationships were a large contributor to their experience
  • A key aspect of positive staff-VLA relationships was investment and responsiveness

Support, Investment and Encouragement: The Making of a Community

"As I said, I had [VLA Scheme Lead], and I know her well, I have a good student lecturer relationship, so I felt really comfortable reaching out to her and saying "Oh I'm a bit stressed" or like "I'm worried about something", I felt comfortable saying that to her" - Bonnie, Student VLA

"It's improved my overall confidence in myself in terms of not to dismiss my ability at something. I'm probably not the the best at bigging myself up or seeing my strengths and I focus more on my weaknesses. So the engagement you had with your peers, the tutors and and [SENIOR VLA], it was like "you do know this". So it's very encouraging" - Margaret, Student VLA

"The sense of community was especially welcome, as was the unwavering support and energy from the VLA staff team" - Bethany, Student VLA

"So that was like the number one form of support that I felt we had, just us having each other's backs" - Sam, Student VLA

"However, the communication and information that came from the module staff could be improved. It sometimes felt unorganised or it was hard to reach someone for questions" - Rachel, Student VLA

"The teamwork is one thing I love seeing from our VLAs- the support with each other, the friendships that are developed, the fact that all of the VLA's, you all feel like you're in the same boat and it's all like a lot of support; a lot of camaraderie" - Wendy, VLA Support Staff Member

Key Points:

  • There is a gap that exists between lecturers and students
  • VLAs provided a "bridge" between the lecturers and students on modules, and the SVLA provided a "bridge" between the VLAs and the staff team in the scheme
  • Student-student relatability and sharing of experiences was highly valued in the learning environment

Bridging the Gap: Students Helping Students

"...building rapport with students (both VLA and current students, as lecturer-student relationships may be 'bridged' through the VLA role" - Alex, VLA Support Staff Member

"I know there was opportunities for that, but I think sometimes, especially if there's a lecturer present, students can be quite resistant to asking questions and can be a bit like ohh I feel a bit embarrassed about asking a lecturer that" - Bonnie, Student VLA

"It can be very overwhelming for new students ... It was the simplest way to put a beacon of light that the modules are attainable which went a long way to lowering student anxiety" - Remy, VLA Stupport Staff and Module Leader

I think it's really important that we can show students that, particularly in research methods modules, that there is an endpoint. That there are students who have passed this module who have moved through it. It's all well and good if I start a research methods module and say ‘We'll get you there’... It almost feels like ‘Well, yeah, you have a PHD’. And I almost like the idea of when we're able to bring in students who have only recently done it to give that more authentic voice to it. That kind of "no, no, no she really is telling you the truth" - Wendy, VLA Support Staff Member

"you had your senior VLA, who's also a student like you, and then you other VLA members it was great. And that was also something that I absolutely loved ... my number one source of support and help, if I was struggling was the other VLA members" - Sam, Student VLA

"I remember a conversation about her [SVLA] saying she was really nervous and I'm thinking. You would never come across as a nervous person. She seems so confident that she's like, no, I do this for a job now, but I never used to" - Margaret, Student VLA