A new report from the College Innovation Network (CIN) highlights the importance of fostering belonging among online students, and shows how intentional design of virtual spaces can enable impactful peer connections.

CIN, which is an initiative lead by Western Governors University (WGU) Labs, looked at how students at the mostly-online Rio Salado College interacted with a customized virtual community created by InScribe. The RioConnect social platform was designed to provide students with a virtual place to ask questions, share resources, and provide support.

“Evaluating EdTech has traditionally been difficult because solutions are often implemented to all students at once. At Rio Salado, CIN was able to compare the sense of belonging among students who began participating in RioConnect soon after launch, with students who either joined later or never at all. By surveying these different user groups six-weeks apart, CIN was able to track changes in belonging for more than 200 students,” explained Dr. Omid Fotuhi, director of Learning Innovation at WGU Labs. “This is the closest to the gold standard of evaluation that is available in the marketplace, and offers the greatest confidence about the impact of a given solution.”

In a press release, CIN identified key findings of the research, including:

  • “Students who engaged with RioConnect reported greater belonging and greater peer connectedness than students who never joined, and students who joined the community in the middle of the study had significant increases in belonging after they began using RioConnect.
  • During the study period students viewed resources posted in RioConnect 19,048 times; viewed conversations 142,214 times; and replied or reacted to conversations 920 times.
  • Sixty-four percent of students said they would recommend RioConnect to other students looking to connect with peers.
  • Seventy percent of students said the InScribe platform was easy to use.
  • Students said connecting with their peers was their most ‘liked’ aspect of the platform, followed by InScribe’s [user experience].”

“It’s really encouraging to see such robust results after just a couple of months of students using the RioConnect community,” said the report’s author, Dr. Nicole Barbaro. “The work that Rio Salado and InScribe did to create this space for students shows that intentional design of virtual spaces can have a significant impact on students’ experiences.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs