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Journal of Engineering Education


The goal of this study is to understand if and how emergency remote teaching (ERT) used during the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways in which instructional support and interactions were linked to belonging among engineering students. Belonging is a fundamental human motivation associated with a wide range of positive psychological, educational, social, and job outcomes. Frequent and predominantly conflict-free interactions within a stable, relational framework of caring are required to facilitate belonging. To better understand potential shifts in belonging that occurred from prepandemic to mid-pandemic, this study used survey data from a cross-sectional dataset at a single, large institution comprised of sophomore to senior level students (N = 1,485) enrolled in engineering courses between 2016 and 2021. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to study relationships among instructional support, instructor interactions, and belonging. The HLM models of ERT and traditional learning differed dramatically. In traditional classroom learning, race, interactions with faculty and teaching assistants (TAs), and instructional support were important factors in belonging. In ERT, certain motivations to study engineering (altruism; desire to build things) had nuanced associations with belonging, while race and interactions with faculty as well as with TAs became largely irrelevant. Most concerning, however, faculty interactions in traditional learning were negatively associated with belonging, indicating a need for a deeper understanding of the impact of those interactions. Further, the differences in the HLM models suggest that rather than returning to pre-pandemic traditional learning, a hybrid model that offers a more level playing field for marginalized students to find belonging in the classroom is recommended. In developing such models, faculty must take special care to avoid having a potentially negative impact on student belonging.

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