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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Belonging and student engagement


Learning is done best as a social activity where students learn and consolidate their knowledge amongst themselves (Vygotsky, cited in Tryphon & Voneche 2010). Connecting with each other in the early days of university also encourages students take advantage of the facilities and services that the university offers.

When the concept of belonging is adopted as an essential feature of the contemporary student experience it positively influences not just academic achievement and social engagement, but success in the achievement of career and employment goals.
(Clarke & Wilson, p. 1)

Students may face new and confusing experiences in Australian tertiary classrooms. Students are expected to:

  • collaborate on projects
  • be active and independent learners
  • participate in discussions (in class and online)
  • ask questions — of lecturers and other students
Start out as you mean to go on. Tell students what is expected of them, give them clear guidelines for what they need to do and how they can do it. Give progressive tips along the way.

Teaching staff at RMIT create opportunities to help students feel that they belong. Look at the quotes below.

Set clear expectations for self-directed learning to help with the transition from school.
Students need opportunities in class to get to know each other. Get them working together and swapping seats so they learn each other’s names and feel comfortable with fellow students.
Follow up individual student absences with a friendly email. Make them feel connected and aware that their presence, absence and welfare matters.
Gaining some small insight into the student’s background usually gives us something to talk about next time we meet.
Short presentations from SLC, RUSU, DLU, mentoring programme, careers advice, Job Shop.
Arrange visits from 2nd or 3rd year students from their discipline/course to talk about their student experience and tips for university life.
Promote RMIT Clubs and ensure students are aware of the enrolment session details.

With thanks to: Dr Nick Bardell, Sanjay D’souza, Kirsten Balding, Grainne Ryan, Dr. Margaret Heffernan, Peter Burke, Julian Newcomb, Dr Belinda Kennedy.

Structure opportunities in class for students to ask questions and clarify their understanding of course content. This helps stimulate and improve learning experiences.

Using questions in class (PDF 68KB)

Language development through student interaction (PDF 65KB)

Checking understanding: engage, review, refresh (PDF 67KB)

Encourage students to interact through a variety of whole of class, small group and pairwork activities using the language of the discipline. Use language activities that enhance the learning of concepts, reasoning and communication relevant to the subject area.

Learning activity (Template) (DOCX 123KB)

Discussion opportunities (PDF KB)

Language development for student interaction (PDF KB)

Integrating language-focused activities in tertiary classrooms (Tip sheet) (PDF KB)

For more tips and resources on engaging your students, see the section on teaching in the Guide to Teaching.

Clarke, B & Wilson 2016, The Ethos of Belonging: A narrative model approach to student engagement 2011-2015, RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC.

State Government of Victoria 2014, Literacy professional learning resource - key concepts - AusVELS levels 7 to 10 - zone of proximal development and scaffolding, State Government of Victoria, viewed 3 February 2017, <

Tryphon, A & Voneche, J (eds) 2010, Piaget-Vygotsky The Social Genesis of Thought, 2013, Taylor and Francis, Hove & New York, viewed 23 March 2017,