The focus of the Retention scheme of work is to deliver sector leading retention rates for all students, improve student belonging and engagement with, around and beyond the curriculum, and to support improved student achievement and progression.


A number of proof of concepts have been developed and are underway across the university. Each focusses on a particular aspect of retention and all are being evaluated using a common evaluation framework.

Retention proof of concepts

Feedback on academic writing
This proof of concept provides students with access to an online writing feedback service offering the opportunity to get individual feedback prior to submission on their academic writing in the areas of structure, language choice, argument/idea development, referencing and examples of spelling and grammar.

Students can use the service up to 4 times per semester and feedback will be received within 24 hours of submission. Whilst the initial focus of promotion is aimed at first year undergraduates, the service is available to all.

The quality of the service and seeking feedback from students, academic and support colleagues will be carefully considered in the evaluation, as well as assessing the benefits to the student experience.

Academic language and literacy
Academic language experts from our Sheffield Institute of Education are working with colleagues to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of academic language and literacy interventions in a range of degree programmes.   Through collaboration with module and course teams, they work to identify key areas for development in students’ performance (using Tardy’s (2009) model of genre knowledge). This process illuminates subject experts’ understanding and expectations of what is required in the academic discourse1 and genres2 of their discipline(s) and courses.   “Interventions” are negotiated with the course/module team depending on objectives, resources, and the most appropriate mode of delivery.

This proof of concept has been well received by departments across the university with identified areas for intervention including: demonstration of critical thinking, source selection and integration, academic literary skills, and the ability to adapt writing to performance in three academic genres (essay/report/dissertation).

1 Academic discourses are “ways of thinking and using language that exist in the academy” (Hyland, 2011, p. 171).
2“Genres are staged, structured communicative events, motivated by various communicative purposes and performed by members of specific discourse communities” (Flowerdew, 2011, p. 140).

Bespoke Resource Package Retailer
This proof of concept provides students with access to course-specific resources through a single bespoke website designed specifically for their course cohort.  Early access to identified resources and the provision of initial funding to support students purchase of these in a “one stop shop environment” may build course identity, improve engagement, progression and retention.

For the proof of concept, a course with a larger than average proportion of commuter students was selected for the pilot, but all students within the cohort have been included.  Working with a retail specialist who has worked with a number of HEIs in the UK, a study support package has been devised which includes

  • key text books
  • e-book downloads
  • materials and equipment relevant to the course

Each student  is provided with an initial allocation of funds to spend at both the start of Semester 1 and 2.  Take up, usage and the items chosen by students will be monitored alongside progression and retention rates.

Digital Examinations
This project based in Sheffield Business School is exploring the use of digital examinations to

  • enhance formative examination practices
  • increase the variety of examination questions and types to help students with different learning styles
  • support the efficiency and efficacy of summative examinations
  • provide speedy and enhanced feedback on exams to students

Promoting Student Belonging
Working with two of our faculties and in partnership with students this project aims to design and deliver an online early transition platform, before students arrive, in order to

  • create a sense of community and belonging
  • Increase awareness of their course and support structures
  • provide regular meaningful communication
  • create an environment for peer support and/or mentoring

Enhancing student digital capabilities
Based in the department of education, childhood and inclusion, this project aims to address low levels of confidence and capacity in terms of some students’ digital capability. In order to do this the project is undertaking a number of research activities to

  • understand the contributing factors
  • establish how to ‘close the gap’ between student capacity and staff expectation
  • develop a framework for course and module leaders to evaluate and plan for the development of academic digital skills

Recording of Learning Activity
Partnering with two of our faculties and working across both of our campuses this project aims, through the use of recording technology, to develop insight into how a move to a more active approach to learning can benefit students. A range of different types of teaching spaces including lecture theatres, seminar rooms and specialist provision such as laboratories have been factored in to be able to fully evaluate the application of the technology and its impact on our students learning.