‘To learn about X, observe what happens to the system when X is removed.’ What happens to the higher education student experience when, during a pandemic, so many of the avenues for building a sense of belonging are radically and fundamentally disrupted? How should we respond as individuals, a collective and a sector, to redress this? The national student survey data in Australia has highlighted a significant drop in learner engagement and their sense of belonging as a result of the pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic has been a significant point of anxiety for students, educators, and universities globally. We see the pandemic as a unique opportunity to critically examine belongingness among university students in a climate where their normal avenues to feel they belong need to establish a new kind of normal. In this article, we seek to articulate what can be learned from the pandemic experience about student belongingness and what instructors can do to improve it, even under difficult circumstances. We found opportunities to strengthen a students’ sense of belonging in online environments, when necessary, and how responses within the constraints of lockdown and emergency remote teaching can still support student success.

Practitioner Notes

  1. The transition to university is often a major change for university students that disrupts their sense of belonging.
  2. Low student belonging to university is an ongoing challenge for the higher education sector.
  3. Instructors can apply pedagogy, practices (like shorter lectures, facilitated informal discussions, and online presence), and behavioural insights to improve university student belongingness acknowledging unique personal and campus differences.
  4. Teacher-to-peer and peer-to-peer relationships can flourish in online teaching environments.
  5. The pandemic has created a problem for belonging (and that belonging is important for student success and experience).

Twitter Handle

@RoyFBaumeister, @JoeyCrawf, @DrKellyAllen @AlisaPercy