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Supporting students' sense of community and belonging

Central to community and inclusion is that the community members feel accepted and valued as themselves. Belonging to a study community means gaining experiences of the relevance of studies and identification with the student community. The sense of belonging is unique and can only be triggered if students identify themselves with the community. That is why it is important to think how to create and promote the sense of inclusion in your teaching.
Students in a lecture hall

A student’s sense of belonging is strongly correlated with the ability to learn. The feeling of belonging produces feelings of empowerment, motivation and agency. Similarly, feelings of exclusion or marginalization hinder learning.

Measures to support student participation include

  1. clear communication on objectives and supporting actions such as learning strategies and assessment
  2. informing about support and feedback opportunities both at the beginning of the course and during the course
  3. choices of teaching methods that also support student interaction and learning and student participation in the production of course content
  4. creating a safe working environment and agreeing on common practices
  5. involving the student in these policies and processes

The teacher can promote community and inclusion in the course in many different ways, some of which are listed in the table below as well as in the guide produced by Nyyti. The student can also contribute to the emergence of community and inclusion in the group.

For some of us, it is important to belong to some permanent communities, such as the class of the degree program. For others, awareness of a community or experience that a community exists is enough for a sense of community. A sense of community doesn’t always show up as an activity, but it’s important to communicate that everyone has the opportunity to become part of the community. On the other hand, communality can also be considered as mandatory. In this case, it is important that the individual sees the significance of their own activities and involvement and is empowered and motivated by the activities of the community.

Everyone has the right to an equal study and work environment that respects and implements diversity.

Non-discrimination Act/Yhdenvertaisuuslaki 1325/2014

A sense of community can also be supported outside the course. In many cases, loose-knit, low-threshold communities act as a factor in increasing a sense of community while increasing wellbeing in the communities. In university communities, this can be, for example, a curriculum development group, an academic guidance group or a leisure group in which everyone who is interested is welcome to participate in a multi-voiced, skilled and multi-faceted way. In addition to supporting wellbeing, the group acts as an empowerment and support agent.

In teaching and learning everyone has a role in creating a inclusive experience. 

  WHAT THE TEACHER CAN DO WHAT THE STUDENT CAN DO

APPROACH:

 EAGERNESS TO (UN)LEARN

  • Understanding how your own background and experiences effect on your perspective and teaching practices: recognizing own thinking patterns ​

  • Being aware of different backgrounds and having experiences of feeling excluded (for example belonging to a marginalized minority / multiple minorities)​

  • Being open to learn and unlearn, with a growth mindset 

  • Understanding how your own background and experiences effect on your perspective and learning practices: recognizing own thinking patterns ​

  • Being aware of different backgrounds and having experiences of feeling excluded (for example belonging to a marginalized minority / multiple minorities)​

  • Being open to learn and unlearn, with a growth mindset 

COURSE DESIGN:

CONTENT & MATERIALS

  • Integrating diverse examples, peoples, and texts into your course material​

  • Ensuring not to use unwelcome verbal or visual materials of any kind that strengthens stereotypes or causes others to feel threatened, unsafe or uncomfortable​

  • Ensuring the accessibility and use of variety of materials and assignments: Note that making your course media (including videos, images, documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) accessible benefits everyone​

  • Designing assessment in a way that it supports belongingness and continuous learning (e.g. group or peer assessment) 

  • If there is something in the course content or materials that bother you, please let the teacher know about it. ​

  • If there is anything in that could be made better in terms of the accessibility of course materials and assignments (including videos, images, documents, PowerPoint presentations, and so on), please let the teachers know about it

INTERACTION AND COMMUNICATION

  • Agreeing on ways of working that support inclusion (housekeeping) and upholding a classroom culture of respect and safety for all​

  • Communicating clearly the course expectations​

  • Fostering dialogue and providing possibilities for continuous (and anonymous) feedback during a course: What to do and whom to contact, if something is not ok?​

  • Supporting students with individual study arrangements

  • Agreeing on ways of working that support inclusion (housekeeping)​

  • Upholding a classroom culture of respect and safety for all​

  • Being active and give feedback during the course​

  • Taking the responsibility of one's and others learning, respecting others' time and effort (e.g. respecting the deadlines), instead of "ghosting", letting others know if there are challenges to meet the deadlines.

 

Material fo support

Group of student working together

Agreeing guidelines for inclusive interaction in course

Inclusive teaching practices are inseparable from high quality teaching practices, so inclusive teaching affects all aspects of a course and learning experience.  

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Collaboration

Tips to maintain togetherness and team spirit

Collection of tips to maintain relatedness and team spirit

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The Best Thing Today podcast series

The Best Thing Today is a podcast series by Aalto study, career and advanced study psychologists.

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diversity of aalto people

Accessibility

Accessibility and diversity are the guiding principles of equality at Aalto University. Accessibility refers to convenience of use and access to education, research and related support services regardless of the diverse qualities of individuals.

Aalto University
Aallon uudet opiskelijat luennolla

Individual study arrangements

Each Aalto student has a right to reasonable individual study arrangements due to an impairment restricting his/her ability to study or other health condition.

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