by Nicole Barbaro, Sr. Communications Content Manager, WGU Labs
Higher education is in a rapid era of transformation. No longer is the college campus tied to physical locations. Rather, the college campus has been reconceptualized as a hybrid, multimodal space. Although online and technology-enabled learning is not fundamentally new, the ubiquity with which technology facilitates learning is.
A trade-off of this new era of higher education is that students no longer have the spontaneous interactions with their peers on campus and in classes that spark connections and boosts belonging. In fact, strategizing about how to boost belonging and facilitate engagement among students is of top concern among college administrators amid wide-spread disengagement and social dissatisfaction.
How can EdTech help? The College Innovation Network (CIN) at WGU Labs has been on a mission to build learning communities where all students belong. To achieve this goal, we leverage EdTech to enhance peer connectedness, foster belonging, and keep students engaged.
Here are three ways we’ve shown EdTech to help boost student belonging on campus.
1- Creates New Campus Spaces
As more and more of the student college experience moves (at least partially) into online spaces, so too must the social interactions among peers. Virtual communities are a great way for colleges to create new spaces for students to connect, ask questions, and offer support.
Especially for online students, virtual communities can be a highly valuable way for students to feel connected to their peers and foster a sense of belonging within the learning community. A recent CIN project with InScribe at Rio Salado College showed that engagement with peers in a virtual community significantly increased student sense of belonging over a six-week period.
By creating virtual spaces for connection, EdTech can help ensure students know they belong with the larger college community.
2 – Helps Students Find Each Other
As many campus-based institutions have returned to in-person classes (with lots of online options still available to students), there remains a fundamental challenge of getting students connected with each other. Campus interactions, though spontaneous and valuable, are often limited to academic shared interests, such as courses or academic organizations.
But students are far more than their academics. And limiting connections to academic similarities may cause students to miss out on important social connections. Another recent CIN project used the NearPeer app at California University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University in New Orleans to connect students with peers who share a wide range of non-academic interests. Students who used the app during the fall term reported significantly higher peer connectedness than students who did not use the app.
We can’t forget that students crave peer connections – EdTech can help.
3 – Makes Peer Communications in Hybrid and Multimodal Classes More Seamless
As individual courses become increasingly hybrid, where some components are done online and some in class, and multimodal, with students simultaneously online and in-person, it’s crucial to use technology to create a seamless in-person and online learning experience.
The standard Learning Management System (LMS), like Canvas or Moodle, is central to course design and peer interactions, but often the discussions on these platforms are text-based and unengaging.
Fortunately, many EdTech products plug-in to LMS to enhance the social experience for students. Another CIN report shows how Harmonize was used by faculty at Piedmont Community College to boost engagement in courses. The main takeaway from this research was that faculty use Harmonize in creative ways as an all-in-one learning discussion platform that allows seamless integration between online and in-person learning. The multimedia features and UX of the tool keep students engaged with course content.
EdTech is becoming central to not only student learning in college, but their social experiences as well. As the lines between online and in-person learning blur, keeping students connected and engaged with each other can be foundational to boosting belonging, and ultimately, student outcomes.
CIN is on a mission to create engaged learning communities where all students belong by leveraging EdTech to help institutions identify student needs, implement solutions, and evaluate impact. Interested in joining? Reach out to learn more www.wgulabs.org/cin