Researching academic innovation to foster belonging



 separate ideas or single big idea? Photo by moren hsu on Unsplash

I am working with an innovative subject group at the moment who have done much to foster student belonging. They have a long list of small recent and current initiatives intended to develop a cohesive disciplinary identity. Previously, they have engaged student researchers from their area to evaluate initiatives such as establishing an irregular informal games zone. Looking at their plans for the next year, their pool of student researchers are fully occupied on other projects. I wonder at the possible conflict of interests in students from the discipline researching a belonging project anyway. Ideally, of course, this means they are looking for methods that are easy to run. It seems analysis of qualitative data will inevitably be arduous.


Further, the methods they have used previously are fairly rudimentary and standard qualitative fare: questionnaires and focus groups. However, it does feel as though qualitative methodology is what is needed here as they want to get to the bottom of the problem and understand its nuances. One challenge, still to be clarified, is whether to look at the picture as a whole or to attempt to look at the impact of the various small initiatives that make up their work individually. The latter is problematic as the concept of belonging is psychological and most easily understood as an outcome of experiencing place holistically.

I was wondering about a token-based system like the ones you get in some supermarkets where, as you pay for your shopping, you are given a token o place in one of three or four buckets depending on what charity you would like the supermarket to support this week. If we introduced a new belonging question each week (perhaps picking out key initiatives) I think people who leave the floor could be asked to deposit a token in a Likert scale-type bucket system with tokens weighed/counted at the end of each day? We could also think about using beacon technology to make it easy for users of the space to learn more about the initiatives and leave feedback on their own experience.

So, I’m looking for ideas. If you have any experience to share, or simply ideas, and please do comment on my thoughts above.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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