Belonging is a tricky concept and there is no consensus on how to measure it. And belonging can be in the university environment, in a course, in a discipline, with peers… Many scales include an aspect of “fitting in”, which is then sometimes turned around on students as pressure to fit in with their peers, or a deficit if they don’t. And the focus is often on students that are in some way “disadvantaged”, which basically means everyone who is not young, white, middle class and male. But despite “belonging” maybe not being what we should be looking at, or maybe not even exactly what we mean, I read a bit more.
I am currently doing this super interesting research project on trust with my colleagues Peter Persson and Rachel Forsyth. Rachel and colleagues developed a model for “trust moves” that teachers employ, but are those moves actually effective in building trust? What makes students trust their teachers? That’s what we investigate in a pilot study that we’ll present at LTH’s teaching and learning conference in December. Read more about it below or here.
(Featured image: Me trusting my freediving instructor)
I read the book “Relationship-rich education. How human connections drive success in college” by Felten & Lambert (2020) almost a year ago and found it super inspiring, but also very hard to summarize. You should check it out yourself, of course, but here are my key take-aways.
This is mostly a “note to self”: Found a really interesting article on “how syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms” by Gun et al. (2021). A review of 60ish biology syllabi as well as the literature of what should be included, and pointers on which group of students especially benefits from the information and why, as well as examples. This is great to help students build “cultural capital” and level the playing field! And strong motivation to pay more attention to syllabi as actual communication tools and how they — as oftentimes first point of contact between instructor and students — can shape the classroom climate.
They even provide a template syllabus here: https://zenodo.org/record/4317968#.Y8EIaC8w0f8
Highly recommended reading!
Gin, L. E., Scott, R. A., Pfeiffer, L. D., Zheng, Y., Cooper, K. M., & Brownell, S. E. (2021). It’s in the syllabus… or is it? How biology syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms at a large-enrollment research institution. Advances in Physiology Education.
When we talk about fostering student sense of belonging, it is easiest to think about in-person interactions. However, a lot of our teaching these days is online, and in high-enrolment courses. What can we do then? Two elements are critical: Teacher presence and interactive course design. Lim, Arif and Farmer (2022) present a case study of a learning analytics feedback intervention that I will summarize below.
We recently ran a round-table discussion on “How to teach students who are not “mini-me”s (and don’t want to be)” at the Lund University Teaching and Learning conference last year, and now I am trying to write a conference paper on what we discussed there. So naturally, I am starting out by re-reading the literature suggestions we gave, as well as some other interesting articles.
After all the thinking about belonging I’ve done recently, I came across the article by Janke et al. (2017) today that measures “social identification with academia” as Venn-diagram with varying degrees of overlap of the circles for “self” and “academics”, which I thought was neat. The reason I found the article was because I was looking for the connection between generation in college and test anxiety, which they investigate. The idea is that for continuing-generation students, i.e. students who have at least one parent who has gone to university, it is much easier to identify with academia and to take failure as something normal that they can overcome, and not as a sign of failure and not belonging. They find that this acts as a buffer for negative experiences, so continuing-generation students can feel more satisfied and less test-anxious in the face of failure (both of which likely makes it easier to succeed again). The academic disadvantage that first-generation students have is therefore not just about not knowing the hidden curriculum and untold rules (as well as typically growing up with less resources (I once read that the number of books in the household a child grows up in is a good predictor for their academic career — how horrible is that?)), but also about their social identity that doesn’t help them feel like belong but that makes belonging depend on how well they do and therefore adds a lot of stress.
I don’t know if there are easy interventions to fix this issue, but it’s at least important to be aware that academic privilege of continuing-generation students is even larger than previously assumed, and to keep this in mind going forward.
Janke S, Rudert SC, Marksteiner T and Dickhäuser O (2017) Knowing One’s Place: Parental Educational Background Influences Social Identification with Academia, Test Anxiety, and Satisfaction with Studying at University. Front. Psychol. 8:1326. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01326
As we are continuing working on our “sense of belonging” project at UiB (read more about my thoughts on students’ sense of belonging and what we can do about it here; and the general idea behind this project is to first get a baseline of student experiences, and then figure out how to make all students feel welcome and that they are in the right place), I’ve started reading up on “mattering”. Belonging makes the assumption that students want to belong in the first place, and that’s not necessarily the case. Mattering, on the other hand, is only about how students perceive others’ reactions to themselves.
In response to my blog post about belonging, I was made aware of the current issue of the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice (JUTLP) on “Pedagogies of belonging in an anxious world“. So now I am determined to actually read that whole issue! My short summaries of the first 7 articles below.