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Sense of Belonging in Large Online Engineering Classes: A Scoping Review

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Asset Sourcing for Remaking Engineering Learning

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Chelsea Haines Lyles Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Chelsea H. Lyles (she, her, hers) is a Postdoctoral Associate for Outreach, Engagement, and Evaluation at the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include P-12 and higher education policy and finance, academic labor, graduate education, and assessment of student learning. By critically examining these areas, she aims to illuminate adverse, systemic impacts of policies and practices on historically marginalized populations at the organizational level. Her current research projects include exploring relationships between STEM graduate student funding types, educational
experiences, and skill development, as well as examining the relationship between Responsibility Center Management (RCM) and administrative outcomes. She holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Virginia Tech, an M.B.A. from Lynchburg College, and a B.A. in Spanish from Mars Hill College.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Lisa D. McNair is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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David Reeping University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Dr. David Reeping is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University of Cincinnati. He earned his Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech and was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He received his B.S. in Engineering Education with a Mathematics minor from Ohio Northern University. His main research interests include transfer student information asymmetries, threshold concepts in electrical and computer engineering, agent-based modeling of educational systems, and advancing quantitative and fully integrated mixed methods.

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With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, most universities made an abrupt shift to offering classes online. Before that shift, many faculty lacked online teaching training and experience, and “97 percent of institutions moving classes online had to call on faculty with no previous online teaching experience” [1]. Prior to COVID-19, only 60% of university chief online officers said faculty were required to have some formal training prior to teaching online [2]. Retention rates in online education are lower than in face-to-face classrooms [3], [2], but faculty can learn how to create a sense of belonging in online classrooms. A student’s sense of belonging is key to their collegiate success, including academic achievement and persistence. Belonging is felt with peers, in classrooms, and in the college environment; however, it differs based on an individual’s social identities and their intersections, such as race, ethnicity, and gender identities. For example, Latinx students in particular who feel validated, supported, and valued are more likely to feel like they fit in [4]. Students of color in STEM fields may have a particularly difficult time fitting in because they are “one of very few” [4]. We provide a review of the literature on sense of belonging in undergraduate education to better understand the relevance of creating a sense of belonging for students’ academic achievement and persistence. We will offer implications for faculty seeking to promote more culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices in online undergraduate engineering classes by creating a sense of belonging.

Strayhorn found that “sense of belonging in STEM was significantly (and statistically) related to students’ self-esteem and the frequency of their interactions with peers” [4]. Faculty members convey care for students in many ways that help develop their sense of belonging, such as learning and remembering students’ names, taking note of students’ career goals, and emphasizing the value students add to class discussions [4]. Two ways to create a sense of belonging for students in an online course are by creating community through online discussion board posts and peer review of written assignments. Using guided prompts, faculty can model welcome introductions at the building of class, use discussion boards to allow students to get to know each other and build trust, and then include guiding questions to facilitate peer review of each other’s papers before assignment submissions [5].

Undergraduate engineering faculty were particularly impacted by the abrupt shift to online education. Large class sizes, strict pre-requisite requirements, and heavy technical content may prove challenging for some faculty to shift to an online modality. In order for students to have an optimum learning experience in an online environment, especially students with marginalized social identities, faculty must pay special attention to creating a sense of belonging. Therefore, we contend this literature review will be a tool for engineering faculty as online education becomes a more standard feature of the curriculum, during the pandemic and beyond.

Lyles, C. H., & McNair, L. D., & Reeping, D. (2021, July), Sense of Belonging in Large Online Engineering Classes: A Scoping Review Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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