A programme for a comprehensive, modular community building course consisting of several options for activities and formats targeted at first-semester students will be developed during the project. The course will span the entire first semester and can either be carried out in full or only in parts. The programme can thus be flexibly implemented at all participating higher education institutions. The clear focus is on face-to-face interaction, complemented with e-learning elements to test if distance learning can be useful in this context.

The course aims

  • at increasing social interaction and exchange among new entrants and
  • at enhancing their identification with higher education institution and academic life.

The course will serve as a vehicle to enhance social interaction between students of all different groups. It will do so by employing newly developed inclusive teaching and learning methods. It will actively seek to extend students’ networks and intercultural and interpersonal competencies by randomly assigning groups at regular intervals to act as a counterweight and complement traditional friendship clusters.

The didactic design is intended to ameliorate possible feelings of isolation and alienation. In addition, the course will familiarise students with their institution and academic life processes to raise students’ organisational commitment.

By confronting students with an institutional research task on their own institution and encouraging them to collect data on their university on a given topic, students will be gently familiarised with academic (research-)methods, and their knowledge about the institution will increase right at the start. They will actively engage with their institution as an object of inquiry instead of passively receiving information. This active approach will boost engagement levels, and as the literature has demonstrated, engaged students are more likely to learn.

The programme thus proposes a didactic concept where institutional research opens up a space for research-based learning (“Forschendes Lernen”), thus habituating students with intrinsically academic values and practices.

The course programme will also feature a BarCamp format at the end of the semester, whereby participating students act as ambassadors, relating their experience at their HEI to prospective new students.

This format aims at empowering last year’s beginners to

  • act as experts to others going through the same process a year later and
  • reflect further on their experience and the difficulties they might have experienced.

While also an intrinsically academic trait, the international exchange has been shown to contribute strongly to alleviating stifling habitus effects experienced in the home country. Therefore, as a final part of the course, the project will hold a transnational study conference bringing students from the partner institutions together to present their projects and exchange ideas. This experience will foster more tightly knit interactions and relationships among students.

Implementing the course will foster increased social interaction and exchange among first-semester students and a more sound identification with the higher education institution. It will contribute to a stronger social integration with the institution and help to build social contacts and networks, ultimately strengthening a feeling of belonging to counter possible feelings of isolation and alienation. As a modular inventory of formats, ideas and suggestions, the course will have considerable potential to be adopted by other higher education institutions.