Photograph of students in a fashion and textiles teaching studio, activity includes students working on patterns and discussing ideas.
Annual NTF Symposia

Promoting friendships in first-year university students: creating a community

Buddy Penfold; Laurie Truscott; Nicholas Rodgers from De Montfort University 

We are academics from De Montfort University, in the School of Fashion and Textiles, teaching studio based, practical creative subjects. The students learn through active learning, constructivism pedagogy (Hamer and Van Rossum, 2010) and working as a community of practice (Wenger, 2010). 

Context for this workshop at the ANTF Symposium 

De Montfort University has introduced block teaching for 2022/23 as Education 2030. 4 sets of 30 credits taught in 7 week blocks with 1 week between blocks. The strategy for this change was to create positive outcomes including focused learning, a good work/life balance and a stronger learning community. A pulse survey showed that although over 90% of students agreed with the first 2 outcomes, only 65% agreed ‘I have made strong connections with other students on my course.’ 

A sense of community is important as we all know we remember more about our university experience beyond the classroom than the lectures (Osterman, 2000). When students have a sense of belonging and it enhances engagement and positive learning behaviours (Picton et al., 2017). As an art school, the sense of community is important to encourage peer to peer learning and a positive studio attitude.  


To build on the sense of community 3 activities are planned across the autumn term for first year contour students. The first activity is a treasure hunt set in induction week. Using Padlet, the class is divided into small groups, each with the task of finding different venues- such useful shops/ places to eat/ sourcing materials for the course. Each group loads photos onto Padlet to create a shared resource for the whole course. This is a fun way to get to know each other and a gentle introduction to presenting to the other groups. Local knowledge helps students to settle in.  

The second activity takes place at week seven and the start of a new module. Again, in small groups, the task is to time plan the project and what needs to take place when in order to achieve the assessment tasks. The assessment is a body of work, not an essay or exam. Weeks are set out along a long sheet of wallpaper and students work together to plan a timeline.  

The third activity is a social event, halfway through the term and repeated as an end of term social. First years are matched with a second and third year as a ‘buddy’ so academic hints and tips can be shared, networking for future professional careers and to break barriers between year groups.  


Certain criteria are needed to build a sense of community through activities. The input of each person must be valued to show that working together achieves better results. The activity must be accessible for everyone and not need certain skills – there is no right or wrong approach. The activity must be of use to the student and each activity build on the next. The Padlet is added to and becomes a useful subject resource, the timeline shows progression towards achieving rather than a list of requirements (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). Most of all the activities must be fun and create a feeling that you belong. 


Hamer, R. & van Rossum, E. J.(2010). The meaning of learning and knowing. Sense Publishers. 

McMillan, D.W. and Chavis, D.M. (1986) “Sense of community: A definition and theory,” Journal of Community Psychology, 14(1), pp. 6–23. Available at:<6::aid-jcop2290140103>;2-i 

Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ Need for Belonging in the School Community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 323–367. Available at: 

Picton, C., Kahu, E.R. and Nelson, K. (2017) Friendship supported learning – the role of friendships in first-year …, STARS Conference. Available at: (Accessed: February 28, 2023). 

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems: The Career of a Concept. In C. Blackmore (Ed.), Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice (pp. 179-198). London: Springer. Available at: