Attributes of Blended Learning Environments Designed to Foster a Sense of Belonging for Higher Education Students

Antonette Mendoza, Anne Venables
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 22  •  2023  •  pp. 129-156

This article seeks answers to the following: (1) What describes a ‘sense of belonging’, inclusiveness, and well-being for students? (2) Which aspects of blended learning, synchronous and asynchronous, promote students’ ‘sense of belonging’? and (3) What are the state-of-the-art best practices for creating inclusive curriculum design for blended learning?

For university students, experiencing a strong ‘sense of belonging’ with their learning communities is a reliable predictor of academic adjustment and program success. The disruption to usual teaching modes caused by the COVID pandemic has diminished opportunities for social engagement among students and their teachers, intensifying the need to encourage students’ belongingness as being ever more important.

This article surveys the literature, pre- and post-COVID, using two complementary search techniques: (1) a systematic scoping review, a top-down strategy, and (2) snowballing, a bottom-up approach, seeking the answers to the three research questions above.

The synthesis presented in the paper provides answers to these questions influenced, in part, by the Community of Inquiry framework and the Universal Design for Learning guidelines. Further, based on our findings from this investigation we offer a set of salient attributes of best practices in designing curriculum for blended learning environments, that is inclusive and fosters a sense of belonging for higher education students

We discovered that belongingness is different for various cohorts. Further, many interventions to improve student wellbeing, and learning experiences on and offline, were built around social, teaching, and cognitive presences. Additionally, our investigation found that blended learning, regardless of the proportion of online versus offline instruction, was generally a positive influence on academic outcomes and student learning.

The set of attributes presented offers practical and helpful approaches to improve curriculum design to promote higher education students’ sense of belonging.

We highlight the lack of specificity in the literature regarding synchronous versus asynchronous learning pedagogy that promotes inclusiveness and a sense of belonging, and we detail our plans for future work will attempt to address this omission.

As a result of the COVID pandemic, many higher education institutions made a sudden and rapid transition to online learning exclusively. As institutions start the move back to more traditional modes of learning, this paper highlights the considerations to be made in using blended learning environments.

Our plans include seeking student and academic advice and feedback on approaches that foster a sense of belonging for higher education students.

sense of belonging, blended learning, community of inquiry, higher education, universal design for learning
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