Beyond Belonging: Creating Online and Blended Spaces for First-Generation Students to Flourish

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will focus on strategies and approaches that can be used to go beyond belonging to create inclusive academic experiences for first-generation students. Participants will leave the session with ideas they can incorporate immediately into their own online and blended courses, and resources for continuous course improvement.


Stephanie M. Foote, Ph.D. is the Senior Associate Vice President for Teaching, Learning, and Evidence-Based Practices at the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and an Instructor at Stony Brook University. Prior to beginning this position, Dr. Foote served as the founding Director of the Master of Science in First-Year Studies, Professor of Education in the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies at Kennesaw State University. A recipient of the McGraw-Hill Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars and NODA Outstanding Research award. Dr. Foote's scholarship and consultative work span a variety of aspects of student development and transition, including: the role of first-year seminars and experiential pedagogy on student engagement in the early college experience; the community college transfer student transition; self-authorship development; engagement and learning in online environments; and high-impact educational practices.

Extended Abstract

Although first-generation students—those first in their families to pursue higher education—comprise a sizable portion of gateway (or general education) course enrollment, little, if any, attention has been given to the pedagogical approaches that might be used to meet the needs of this diverse student population (Baldwin et al., 2021). This session will focus on strategies and approaches that can be used to go beyond belonging to create inclusive academic experiences for first-generation students.

The session will begin with a focus on existing research on (and with relevance to) first-generation students and their academic experience (e.g., Baldwin et al., 2021), including contemporary research on levels of “first-generationness” (Darrah, Humbert, & Stewart, 2022), and theoretical frameworks (e.g., Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth Model, 2005). Information about gateway courses and the gateway course impact on students identifying as first generation will also be discussed. This part of the presentation will include several reflective questions aimed at helping participants understand the nuances associated with first-generation student identities.

Then, we will explore pedagogies and practices—ranging from examples of small teaching practices to more extensive forms of course redesign—all of which are particularly responsive to students who identify as first generation. Furthermore, the emphasis will be on small changes that are evidence-based and applicable across the disciplines and modes and modalities. Specifically, we will explore aspects of humanized/humanizing and critical compassionate pedagogy (an approach used with first-generation identifying students), and the use of the Transparency in Learning and Teaching or TILT framework  and Universal Design for Learning to reduce or remove aspects of unwritten curriculum and provide opportunities for all students to be successful in our courses. This section will conclude with a brief introduction to and discussion about designing our courses to foster self-regulated learning—a metacognitive approach to learning that can benefit all students—but has all been found improve course performance for first-generation identifying students (Bernacki, Vosicka, & Utz, 2016; Vosicka & Utz, 2017, as cited in Horrowitz, 2019, p. 25).

Finally, we will reflect on and commit to ways in which we can incorporate the strategies, approaches, and ideas from the session into our own teaching practice. To this end, participants will leave with a plan to employ small course changes with the goal of going beyond belonging to create inclusive academic online and blended experiences for first-generation students.

This session is designed to be interactive, and as such, a variety of purposeful active learning strategies will be used. First, throughout the session participants will be provided multiple opportunities to reflect on and share, as they feel comfortable. Participants will be provided with a Google Doc that they will use to capture their personal reflections, during and after the session, that will ultimately, become a personal plan. Short case studies will be shared and discussed, potentially in breakout rooms if there is sufficient session attendance. Additionally, the presenter will engage participants in feedback about the various strategies and approaches (and potential application) shared in the session through the use of the online chat, Mentimeter, and Google Jam Board. The presenter will also share a Wakelet of resources from the presentation and invite participants to add to that “living” resource.

  • At the end of this session, participants will be able to describe characteristics of first-generation students and common influences on their transition and success
  • At the end of this session, participants will be able to articulate several pedagogical approaches that are responsive to first-generation students
  • At the end of this session, participants will be able to identify ways in which they can adapt and apply the pedagogical approaches for use in their own online and/or blended course(s).