Digital belonging : the role of social network sites in establishing a sense of belonging among first-year undergraduate males in an online-only setting
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A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need, especially important for first-year undergraduates since it is directly related to their overall success and experience with the institution they attend (Ahn & Davis, 2020; Freeman et al., 2007; Tinto, 2017). This need drives individuals to seek mutually beneficial relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Over, 2016; Taormina & Gao, 2013), underscoring the need for ongoing, positive interactions between the students and their instructors—and the university as a whole—as well as between the students themselves (Tinto, 2017). For the 2020-2021 school year, however, first-year students at traditional universities in Canada faced a new and unexpected reality: an online-only experience—along with restricted in-person contact in general—due to policies enforced by the Canadian government in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic (CBC, 2020; CDC, 2020; Government of Canada, 2020). At the University of British Columbia (UBC), specifically, on-campus activities and related events were cancelled, limited, or offered solely online, the requirement to live locally was removed—removing the dormitory or shared housing experience for most students—and all courses (except a select few within visual arts, music, and theatre) were delivered online (UBC Service Desk, personal communication, April 4, 2022). This combination of restricted in-person contact and digital course delivery highlights the importance of understanding the students’ need for belonging—specifically, whether and how it is met in the online-only context—as well as the roles played by the communicative tools involved.
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