Employing Character Strengths to Connect with Diverse Student Populations

Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Brief Abstract

With increased diversity in the higher education student population, connectedness becomes especially important to fostering effective online learning communities and enhancing student learning experiences. Learning to employ character strengths based strategies to connect with diverse student populations will be the focus of this discovery session. Join us!


Dr. Justina Or is an educator and human services professional. She earned her PhD in Psychology from Grand Canyon University. She also holds a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dr. Or started her career as a teacher for children and youth. Later, she managed public developmental disabilities programs to support the inclusion of individuals who have developmental disabilities. She now serves as an assistant professor at a university in Ohio. She primarily teaches online courses of psychology, philosophy, and leadership. She is interested in leveraging positive psychology to improve higher education practices with focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Dr Laura L Thompson earned her PhD in Psychology with an emphasis in the integration of technology and instruction from Grand Canyon University. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in human cognition and intelligent technologies from Columbia University, Teachers College. Her Bachelor of Science degree in education, special education, and reading is from Central Michigan University. Dr Thompson started her career as a special education teacher for children with emotional impairments and has since instructed students in grades K through 12 and holds certifications in special education, general education, reading, and teaching English as a second language in addition to administrative certificates. Dr Thompson has instructed undergraduate students at the University of Delaware and Wilmington University. She has also developed expertise as a professional development specialist and an educational diagnostician. Currently, as a Learning Strategies Coordinator at Delaware Technical and Community College, Dr Thompson provides professional development for faculty regarding instructional strategies and technology integration. Her research interests include online community development, the instructor's role in the online environment, and effective technology integration.

Extended Abstract

The higher education student population is becoming increasingly nontraditional. Over 40% of today’s undergraduate students are nontraditional students, who are 25 years old or older and have at least one of the following characteristics: delayed entry to college, is a parent, is employed full-time, is enrolled part-time, has dependents, is considered financially independent, or does not have a high school diploma. While many students have taken at least one online course, the majority of students who enroll in online education exclusively are nontraditional students.

As the number of nontraditional students in higher education grows, the diversity of the online student population will also grow. Increased diversity brings many benefits to learning communities. For instance, nontraditional students with work experience may stimulate classroom discussion by connecting examples from work to course materials. They may also bring wisdom pertaining to how one may juggle between school and other responsibilities. In addition, as students engage and collaborate with one another, increased diversity in a learning community may promote perspective taking, empathy, and creativity.

However, managing diversity can be challenging. For example, students from diverse backgrounds may have different learning needs and communication styles. These differences may lead to conflicts that disrupt the connectedness of online learning communities. Connectedness is generally characterized by belongingness and relationships. It is associated with participation, academic performance, motivation, persistence, and holistic development. It is key to fostering effective learning communities and enhancing student learning experiences.

An effective way to cultivate connectedness in the online classroom with diverse student populations is for faculty to leverage their character strengths and employ character strengths based strategies. Character strengths are positive personality traits that manifest in our thinking, feelings, and actions. The character strengths model adopts a positive view on human behavior. It assumes every one has positive personality traits in varying degrees. It also enables us to utilize our existing inner resources to approach challenges as opportunities. Through the focus on character strengths, online faculty tend to the positive aspects of self and others when collaborating with students to problem solve in the learning community.

Research indicates several character strengths based strategies are especially useful to cultivating connectedness, such as Turning Our Strengths Other-oriented, Character Strengths Appreciation, Mindful Listening and Speaking, and Boosting Humility. This discovery session will illustrate how online faculty may put these strategies in practice to cultivate connectedness in online learning communities. Attendees of the discovery session will 1) recognize the importance of connectedness, 2) understand the unique advantages of the character strengths model, and 3) apply specific character strengths based strategies to cultivate connectedness in online learning communities. Come prepared to learn and share!