Can new digital technologies support student retention and engagement?




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Higher Education Academy (HEA)



Peer reviewed



University students in their first year face a myriad of challenges such as information overload, poor individual attention and/or minimal interaction with their peers, which can impede their progress through higher education. These challenges, together with other factors, have an impact on student retention and progression that needs to be addressed. We have established a range of strategies to improve retention and progression of new Biomedical Science (BMS) students at De Montfort University (DMU, UK) in 2016/17, including an intensive induction week with social and networking events with academics to enhance the development of constructive relationships. We have also increased the number of lectures on foundation in biology, chemistry and maths, introduced more tutorials and created “surgery” hours or weekly drop-in sessions in each module. These strategies could have been translated into a reduction in the percentage of students that abandon their BMS studies after their first year from 10.3% (24 students) in 2015/16 to 6.5% (13 students) in 2016/17, according to DMU reporting software (Tableau). However, we have noted that some of our BMS students require more basic support in STEM subjects (biology and chemistry), particularly those students that enter from the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) pathway, despite having met university-set entry requirements and the modifications to the curriculum to cater for such students. To address these limitations, we have started to develop a complete e-learning package designed to enhance learning and underpin the fundamental concepts of biology and biochemistry. The development of the DMU e-Biology package started in 2017 and covers the specifications for AS and A level described by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA, 2017) for human biology as well as the basic concepts delivered in our first year modules. The DMU e-Biology also has interactive case studies related to topics of interest for our students, such as alcohol abuse and biomarkers of disease in clinical samples, to encourage self-learning and autonomous work on the part of the user. The main aim of the virtual case studies is to facilitate the development of students’ abilities to critically evaluate and use evidence from the literature, skills that are invaluable to any scientist and indeed key for future generations of biomedical scientists. The final package will be publicly available on the DMU website ( in 2018, after reviewing student feedback. The availability of this resource prior to students starting their course may enable earlier engagement and improve student retention.



DMU e-Biology


Pena-Fernandez A., Randles, M.J., Young, C., Potiwat, N., Bhambra, A.S. (2018) Can new digital technologies support student retention and engagement? Higher Education Academy STEM conference 2018, Newcastle, Jan – Feb 2018.


Research Institute

Institute for Allied Health Sciences Research
Leicester Institute for Pharmaceutical Innovation - From Molecules to Practice (LIPI)