Student experience


Higher education institutions universally need to maximise student engagement by modifying teaching practices in response to changes caused by globalisation, technological innovation, and community values. To do this, it is necessary to deeply understand the complexity of student needs and identify how to respond. The global shift to wholly online learning during COVID19 presented a unique opportunity to better understand the influences and outcomes of student engagement in practice. We conducted an extended 2-day focus group with students from an Australian university and applied Kahu and Nelson’s educational interface framework to investigate how the shift to online education affected students’ perceptions of learning and engagement. Students reported their primary needs related to digital competencies, flexible learning, and teacher care and enthusiasm. In these contexts, educators must support students to develop self-efficacy and a sense of belonging. However, most significant was the inextricable connection between students’ personal lives, including emotions and wellbeing, and their university lives. Students reported that they consistently prioritised lifeload over learning load, while consciously knowing their choices were at odds with their learning. We provide suggestions for improving future learning models, while also acknowledging more work is needed to better understand student lifeloads and decision-making. These insights are valuable for improving practice in higher education, as institutions internationally and sector wide continue to adapt to the evolving needs of students within global sociocultural contexts.

Practitioner Notes

  1. COVID19 caused significant disruption to student engagement
  2. Student engagement is affected by mediating factors including self-efficacy, sense of belonging, emotions, and wellbeing
  3. The following were key to student engagement for our law student participants during COVID19: flexibility, self-efficacy, and sense of belonging; teacher care and enthusiasm; and developing competencies in new digital environments
  4. Students appeared to prioritise lifeload over learning, even when this choice was detrimental to their learning
  5. More work is needed to understand whether the prioritisation of lifeload over learning is widespread across other student cohorts and disciplines

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