Centering Students: Humanizing Online Discussions

Concurrent Session 1
Research Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

Research supports inclusion as critical for effective learning (Strayhorn, 2018). In a challenging statistics class, humanizing online discussions were designed to create meaningful connections and a sense of belongingness with the class. At the end of the semester, students were asked about participating in the discussions. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Extended Abstract

Research supports inclusion as critical for effective learning, especially social belonging (Strayhorn, 2018). Though discussions are one way to enhance social belonging, they can often feel forced or contrived, especially if prompts are poorly designed to allow for true student-student interaction. To allow for a more genuine discussion and center student wellness, a statistics class was revised to include a series of discussion prompts unrelated to course content. Rather than assessing statistical knowledge, these graded discussions focused on topics that would serve to generate community building ( introduction post), celebrate diversity (diversity, equity, and inclusion post), support metacognitive strategies (study tips post), encourage self-affirmation (mid-semester reflection post), and normalize self-care (mental health break post). Their purpose was to humanize the online discussion forum and lead to more meaningful connections with each other, and feelings of belongingness in the context of a challenging mathematics class where few feel an inherent sense of belonging.

At the end of the semester, students were asked about their perceptions of participating in graded online discussions that are unrelated to course content. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Students saw these discussion posts as beneficial (over 76% agreed or strongly agreed) and recommended continuing to have similar discussion post assignments in future semesters (over 78% agreed or strongly agreed). In their own words, students described feeling a sense of belonging (“I did not feel alone”), and identified benefits of learning from their peers (“I learned how other people were best achieving success in the course as well as what was causing them problems, which helped me change my habits regarding the class.”). Students shared the value of connecting with classmates (“These really helped me feel like I was a part of a class community, which made it easier for me to feel motivated to complete my work!”) and of discussing topics of diversity and inclusion (“I liked the DEI discussion in particular because we were reminded about how our generation can make a change in the field of statistics by implementing diversity in future studies.”).

In this session, attendees will reflect on their own classes, and think about how they might incorporate discussions that are not related to class-content, but are designed to help students succeed in the class and persist throughout the academic program. Participants will brainstorm and discuss ideas with the group. Attendees will learn the research-backed benefits of inclusion and belongingness within the classroom and will walk away with concrete ideas for activities and assignments that can be implemented in their online classes to enhance a sense of belonging.

Strayhorn, T. L. (2018). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge.