Campfires – Student Community Building (blog)

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Catherine Redpath – School of English & Journalism – Senior Lecturer/Programme Leader – Staff Profile


The Campfire initiative emerged during the pandemic as a means of community building. I had become increasingly concerned that due to (often) repeated periods of self-isolation, students were experiencing high levels of dislocation from their peers, their modules, and the university community. This was leading to students reporting high levels of anxiety and mental health issues and significantly impacting on attendance and engagement. Inevitably, student attrition was also of concern.


I devised the Campfires to be voluntary, extra-curricular, non-hierarchical community building sessions. These bi-monthly sessions took place online on Saturday evenings and were initially devised around themes which were, in part, suggested by students. These themes included, ‘Meet the Pets’, ‘Mini Come Dine with Me’ and ‘A Song for Covid.’

The name ’Campfire’ emerged from an in-person event that I had organised many years ago at a previous institution, when one of my students passed-away suddenly. During this time, student morale was very low, and I was searching for a way to bring the cohort together to grieve, but also to re-cohere as a group. As the student concerned was a keen camper, I arranged for us to gather round a large campfire off campus and share our memories of him.

The pandemic Campfires were organised using ‘Blackboard Collaborate’ and advertised via module and year group sites. I took the decision not to include an ‘end time’ on the Collaborate link so that students could participate for as long as they wished rather than me dictating when the event should come to a close. It was important that the students felt they had control. The start time of 6.00pm was negotiated with students and the latest that one of these sessions came to a close was 11.25pm.

Outcomes and benefits

The Campfires attracted a good range of students with attendance reaching over 35 at 2 events. The average participation rate was 23/4. Interestingly, over the course of semester A, the Campfires transitioned into teaching and learning sessions. This was especially the case during the assessment periods and as the Independent Study proposals were being drafted. Consequently, they became spaces where students could seek clarification, obtain feed-back, and discuss works in progress. Overwhelmingly, students reported that these Campfires had increased their sense of community and belonging, helped them to feel less isolated and offered a safe space during a frightening and unpredictable period in their university careers.


Blackboard Collaborate Ultra: For support on using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for teaching and learning please see this page: Resources Hub: Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – Digital Education Support (