What about me? Non-traditional student perceptions of belonging in an online course

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session Best in Strand

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This exploratory grounded theory study addresses hope as it is related to non-traditional students and their perceptions of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, specifically his third rung, “belonging,” when taking an online course. The intent of this study is to provide an explanation of student perceptions regarding their sense of belonging when taking an online course. The concepts of belonging, hope, non-traditional, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, will be examined from the framework of Baumeister and Leary’s Belongingness Theory and Charles Snyder’s Hope Theory through qualitative methodology.  The purposeful sample population of Southern Utah University (SUU) graduate students in several master degree programs was utilized.  These students were emailed a 10-question survey via Google forms.  Preliminary data analysis, using ethnographic techniques such as axial coding, revealed the following themes: instructor and peer feedback, interaction and engagement, and interactive discussion boards, posts and group engagement, were found to add to a student's sense of belonging and inclusion in an online course.  Theoretical implications may provide “belonging” approaches that faculty can apply and implement to better ensure their students feel a sense of belonging and inclusion in an online course.



Cynthia Kimball Davis is currently working as Director of Graduate Programs. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction in Career & Technical Postsecondary Education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Teaching and Learning Department. Prior to graduate school, Cynthia worked as a college administrator, director, college business and management training faculty, face to face and online faulty, patient educator and advocate, and columnist. Cynthia works to be a hope-based communicator and leader and is often heard saying she is 'excellent' and 'to keep doing great things!' One of her favorite quotes is by Colonel Arthur J. Athens, USMC, (Ret.), Director of the U.S. Naval Academy's Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership: 'I believe if you ask any extraordinary leader what does leadership and love have to do with it, they would tell you everything.' Cynthia's other favorite quote is by a church leader, Joseph B. Wirthlin, 'Come what may, and love it.' (;

Extended Abstract

Baumeister and Leary (1995) found "human beings are fundamentally and pervasively motivated by a need to belong, that is, by a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments" (p. 522).  In face-to-face classrooms, the human interaction element of body language can communicate this belonging and inclusion. However, in online classrooms, the finer nuances of body language, words and tone, which communicate belonging and inclusion, do not exist unless through, for example, a webinar platform; yet, even still, it is not the same belonging experience as in a face-to-face traditional classroom. On a similar note, Snyder (1994) found a correlation between hope and goal attainment. Thus, from the conceptual framework of Baumeister and Leary’s Belongingness Theory, and Snyder’s Hope Theory, through qualitative grounded theory methodology, this study addressed hope as it relates to non-traditional students and their perceptions of Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy of Needs, specifically belonging, when taking an online course.  After all, Maslow believed people (i.e, students) are motivated to achieve certain needs (i.e., educational goals), when their hierarchy of needs is met.  This study focused on the middle phase of his hierarchy, belonging, and how instructors can effect this rung as an online educator.  In this 45-minute session, Dr. Davis and Hunter will deliver multiple hands-on activities (i.e., digital icebreaker, polling participants, using devices to ask questions during presentation, and using devices to build sample Canvas discussion board assignment).