Planning Staff-Student Contact

Overview and Expectations


The quality of contact between academics and students is a key factor in supporting learning. Traditional ‘contact hours’ in lectures, seminars and labs, and asynchronous interaction, e.g. through electronic fora, all have their place, but timely and targeted close contact, for example to give feedback on student work, is particularly effective as this is associated with greater educational gains independent of class contact hours (Trigwell, 2003). In addition, the majority of student time is spent outside of contact hours (Brennan et al, 2009) so it is vital that these contact hours are designed to encourage, inform and propel students’ work through which they will learn.

The University 2014-20 Strategy states that:

Interactions between students and staff will be designed to encourage, inform and propel students’ work. Students will receive the guidance, support and feedback they need to make progress, and they will understand what they can expect from the University in support of their learning.

The York pedagogy seeks to maximise the value of students’ ‘contact time’ with staff (which may be face-to-face, virtual, synchronous or asynchronous). 

Expectation for change

The expectation is that programmes will be reviewed to identify where there may be opportunities to enhance the value of interactions between staff and students through more effective design of contact events, independent study, learning resources, student assignments and feedback, and the alignment of all of these with programme learning outcomes. This will also enable more efficient and productive use of staff time.

For example, some material could be covered outside scheduled events, perhaps supported by online resources or asynchronous activities, to enable different types of interactions in class which are more engaging for students and staff. There may also be ways to enhance students’ ability to optimise their use of supervision and other sources of personal support. This will ensure that students’ independent study is directed to maximise its contribution to effective learning. 




Brennan, J., Patel, K. and Tang, W. (2009) Diversity in the student learning experience and time devoted to study: a comparative analysis of the UK and European evidence. Bristol: HEFCE.

This is a HEFCE commissioned report from the OU which examines international differences (especially in respect of European higher education) in the student experience, based both on a review of literature and on the reanalysis of existing data on students collected as part of two recent studies. The initial focus was on the hours students devote to study activity, but this was subsequently broadened to take account of other factors and different ways of conceptualising the student experience.

Pascarella, E.T. and Terenzini, P. (2005) How college affects students (PDF , 844kb)

In How College Affects Students, the authors synthesise the most recent body of research that addresses the question ‘What works?’ in terms of higher education.

Trigwell, K. and Ashwin, P. (2004) Undergraduate students’ experience of Learning at the University of Oxford. Oxford: Oxford Learning Institute.

This is research undertaken concerning Oxford students’ perceptions of their learning environment with a particular focus on the power of the tutorial.


Available Support and People to Consult

If you or your colleagues would like to find out more about techniques that may enhance your contact with students, the ProPEL project team can help. The E-Learning Development Team can also advise on ‘flipping’ lectures by using personal capture for all staff to pre-record material, and the use of Lecture Capture to record (audio + slides) full lectures in lecture theatres (around 49 rooms have automated capture). Both options are supported by Blackboard Mobile for presentation of material. The Team also provides training on the Collaborate web conferencing tool and offers a full range of professional development opportunities, including:



It may help to start by considering:

  • Do students get too little contact time, too much or just right?
  • Are there things that students do too much of/too little of in contact time?
  • Is contact with teaching staff designed to maximise learning in each module? 
  • Are there opportunities to add more value to contact time, such as by giving students different tasks for their independent study (such as watching a recording or using other resources) which then enables a class to be more interactive with a greater impact on learning (and more engaging for the member of staff)?

Interactive lectures

Students often struggle to remain attentive throughout a lecture leading to engagement issues and declined learning. Breaking up the lectures can give students a chance to process what you have told them and re-engage with the lecture. Many examples exist to encourage interaction.

Peer instruction in lectures

Peer Instruction was utilised by Eric Mazur at Harvard University as a way to engage students in their own learning during lectures. A questions is posed and students given a couple of minutes to formulate an answer. They then spend a few more minutes discussing their answers with their immediate neighbours, attempting to reach agreement on the correct answer. It can be used effectively to evaluate understanding, to flip classrooms and to add interactivity to lectures to keep students engaged.

Technology-enhanced staff-student contact

The Technology-enhanced Learning Handbook provides detailed information and guidance concerning integrating technology-based approaches into learning and teaching programmes, including:

  • Structured instructional support to students 

Section 5.1 of the handbook: instructional writing

Section 5.2: before the online activity

Section 5.3: facilitating an online activity

  •  Preparatory activities for students to complete online before face-to-face sessions

Section 4.3 of the handbook: expectations of roles and participation

Section 4.4: choosing the right tool

Case study: Ensuring essential prior knowledge for lab work

Case study: The History and Theory of Criticism (PDF , 719kb) (blog based collaboration)

Case study: Core knowledge (PDF , 1,522kb) (collaborative research through the use of wikis)

  • Interactive teaching in class

Technology in the classroom – a summary of technologies that instructors may use to support face-to-face teaching

Capturing ideas using Lino [YouTube]

Collaboration in class with Google Docs and Sheets [YouTube]

Replay – In-class Tech Tips [YouTube playlist]   

Collaborate mobile app