At the start of their studies, universities offer new students support in the form of information, advice, and orientation events. They aim of these formats is to bring new students into contact with each other and introduce them to important contact points, contact persons and study structures. Orientation weeks, first-semester welcomes, and orientation tutorials are an integral part of the induction phase in many Higher Education institutions. They are usually organised by student representatives, programme coordinators and central counselling centres. In the ENTRANTS project, the project team explored the question of how the existing orientation offers could be enriched in a meaningful way.

The ENTRANTS team developed a comprehensive, modular community building course consisting of several options for activities and formats targeted at first-semester students. The course spans 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 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 serves as a vehicle to enhance social interaction between students of all different groups. It actively seeks 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 familiarized 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.

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.

Getting started: learning from colleagues, students, and other research projects

Before and during the development of the concept, the project team was in close exchange with colleagues and students (the so-called advisory groups) to discuss how an ideal format should look like. In the discussions, it became clear that the community-building course should not compete with existing offers – in other words, no parallel structures should be created. There was also agreement that the course should not be called “Fit for study”. The students associated this with a need to adapt to existing structures and routines and not being given the opportunity to bring themselves – as they are – into the course. Overall, students and colleagues stated that an ideal community-building is one.

  • that takes place during the semester,
  • that takes up own strengths to be reflected upon/developed.
  • in which a sense of belonging to the university can be developed by introducing students to academic work and their place of study.

“Belonging is defined here as students’ sense of being accepted, valued, included, and encouraged by others (teachers and peers) in the academic classroom setting and of feeling oneself to be an important part of the life and activity of the class. More than simple perceived liking or warmth, it also involves support and respect for personal autonomy and for the student as an individual.” (Goodenow, 1993, p. 25).

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” (Brown, 2012 p. 145f.).

In promoting their own identity, it is important for the student advisory group not only to focus on everyday study in the course, but also to sensitise students to a balanced study-life-balance. The wellness framework of Harvard University offers guidance for the development of the community building course (see Harvard 2023).

For the outline of the course concept, the feedback from the advisory groups was combined with findings from research on the sense of belonging and university didactic practice. In order to make the course concept compatible with existing offers, it was modularized: The community building course combines five modules, which can be used as a complete course or separately.


Download the Curriculum Community Building course (face-to-face)

Download the Curriculum Community Building course (synchronous online)