09 SES 17 A, Assessments and Evaluation Culture in (Higher) Education
Belonging as a construct was mostly highlighted by an influential American Professor of Psychology with his remarkable contributions to the manifestation of humanistic approach in the field. According to Abraham Maslow (1954), the feeling of belonging is a significant psychological need for an individual in the way to the achievement of Self-Actualization. However, the definition of school belonging in the literature connotes a mixture of sociological and psychological aspects of the construct. In that sense, Willms (2000) describes the school belonging construct as “attachment to school and underpinned by feelings of being accepted and valued by others (including peers) within the school community” (p. 240). Yet, for this study, an autotelic description was needed. Therefore, with an aim to measure academic belonging of bachelor’s degree students, the operational definition of academic belonging ascribes a compiled description as the feelings and experiences associated with attachment to the department so that individuals experience valued involvement and fit, academic affiliation, and connectedness. In this context, academic belonging for this study specifies the feelings and experiences of belonging, which only a student enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program may go through in a university environment. This specification precisely differentiates itself from other belonging constructs.
With a more deductive explanation, it should be mentioned that studies and researches on the belonging construct have hitherto been conducted from various perspectives including not only psychology, but also sociology, philosophy, nursing, and education (Hodgins, 2016). From an educational approach, belonging studies have been carried out with regards to school belonging correlating to academic achievement (Chen, 2005; Li & Lerner, 2011; Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2004), self-esteem (Freeman, 2005; DePaul, 2009) and self-efficacy (McMahon, Parnes, Keys, & Viola, 2008), and even to dropouts (Fine, 1991; Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Charmaraman, & Hall, 2011). In this sense, theoretical background of a sense of academic belonging in this study is similar to the literature logic when it is scrutinized. Still, when its aspects are examined, its difference can be deducted in a way that it seeks a measurement of differentiation within the feelings and perceived experiences of university belonging. This differentiation is meant to delve into the construct-related aspects: valued involvement & fit (VIF), which corresponds to involvement in academic and social activities, academic affiliation (AA), which refers to interactions with academic staff and peers in terms of academic support, guidance and pedagogical help, and connectedness (C), which reflects perceived social adaptation such as personal feelings on getting socially accepted and respected.
After examination of literature, it has been clarified that various approaches to measurement of the belonging construct have emerged (Hodgins, 2016; Slaten et al., 2016). Mainly, multi-item scales are preferred in the assessments of the construct. For instance, Goodenow (1993) developed a prominent scale called “Psychological Sense of School Membership” for the assessment of sense of school belonging. The scale was designed in a five-point Likert scale format and the number of items was 18 including 5 reverse coded items. However, the numbers of items change accordingly either with domains aimed to be measured or the aim the research or the study carries. Ingram (2012) highlights that “researchers typically use broad and nonspecific measures to assess belonging” (p. 7). Moreover, she used a 7-item scale for the Academic Belonging domain in her research. Finally, considering the literature findings and keeping the focus on belongingness experiences of bachelor’s students in their departments, the aim of this study was to develop an academic belonging scale and discover the alignment of the hypothesized domains to the factorial structure hidden in the bachelor’s students’ mindsets.
After a careful literature review of both the belongingness construct and the previously developed belongingness scales, it has been decided that this ad hoc scale required its own items. For that purpose, 37 items, consisting of 16 under VIF, 11 under AA, and 10 under C, were generated for the item pool construction. To provide content validity, two experts from the field of Psychology and Measurement and Evaluation were consulted for their expert opinions on both the construct and the items corresponding to the defined domains. Due to the removal of overlapping items and the integration of additional items, the analysis of expert opinions reduced the number of items to 18. Moreover, a cognitive interview with one bachelor’s degree student was employed to reveal unforeseen issues in the scale. The interview confirmed the readiness of the scale just after a correction of a typo. The number of items and sample items in each domain of the final administered scale are given below: 1. Valued involvement and fit (4 items): “I want to take a part in activities in my department” 2. Academic affiliation (9 items): “When I need it, I can easily ask for help from at least one of the academic staff in my department” and “I and my peers from my department are studying together for exams” 3. Connectedness (5 items): “I like spending time in my department” and “If I had a chance, I would change my department” Five-point Likert-type rating scale ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” were selected since the nature of items’ language on measuring belonging was so congruent to the agreement statements. Using the finalized version of the 18-items Academic Belonging Scale (ABS), data were collected from 170 bachelor’s degree students (64 male, 104 female, 1 transgendered, and 1 non-respondent) in a public university through convenient sampling method. While the majority of university students participating in the study was dominantly from the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences (45.3%), the rest respectively consisted of the students from the Faculty of Arts and Science (28.2%), the Faculty of Architecture (12.9%), the Faculty of Engineering (8.2%), and the Faculty of Education (5.3%). Consequently, to explore the factorial structure of the 18-item (including 2 reverse-coded) ABS, exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was performed after assumptions checks were completed.
Both Mardia’s test and the Omnibus test of multivariate normality were found significant (p<.001), indicating a violation of multivariate normality. Therefore, principal axis factoring was used as the estimation procedure (Costello & Osborne, 2005). Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy with a value of 0.88 and the significant value Bartlett’s test (p<.001) suggested the appropriateness of conducting EFA. The results indicated a three-factor structure with an explained variance of 61.34%.; however, item 5 “My absenteeism in my department is noticeable” cross-loaded on two domains, thus it had to be removed. Accordingly, findings of the remaining 17-items in the scale pointed out a requirement of a different operational definition than the proposed one. New domains were named as academic affiliation and connectedness (AAC), valued involvement and fit (VIF), and peer affiliation (PA). Items related to academic staff and peers appeared in different factors. In addition, items involving the statements such as enjoying spending time in the department, feeling like a guest student in the department, feeling honoured to be a student in the department, and an intention on changing their department if they had a chance were found related to students’ affiliations with academic staff. Furthermore, the Cronbach alpha coefficients were found as .89, .84, and .82, and .89 for AAC, VIF, PA, and overall, respectively. Yet, this study only revealed the factorial structure of ABS and requires further data collection to provide more evidence for construct validity such as Confirmatory Factor Analysis. Still, this study within these findings presents a cognitive guide for researchers who wish to study academic belongingness, and after further validation of the scale, it is anticipated to become a tool for curriculum evaluators who can use it to gain insights on the degree of welcoming environment which departments in higher education create.
Charmaraman, L., & Hall, G. (2011). School dropout prevention: What arts-based community and out-of-school time programs can contribute. New Directions for Student Leadership, 2011(S1), 9-27. Chen, J. J. L. (2005). Relation of academic support from parents, teachers, and peers to Hong Kong adolescents' academic achievement: The mediating role of academic engagement. Genetic, social, and general psychology monographs, 131(2), 77-127. DePaul, J. (2009). School belonging and social support: Identifying moderators of the relationship between gender typicality and self-esteem. Boston College. Fine, M. (1991). Framing dropouts: Notes on the politics of an urban high school. SUNY Press. Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of educational research, 74(1), 59-109. Freeman, E. (2005). The Relationship Between Self-esteem, Self-efficacy and Sense of Belonging in Young Adolescents at School. Freeman, T.M., Anderman, L.H., & Jensen, J.M. (2007). Sense of belonging in college freshmen at the classroom and campus levels. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75, 203–220. doi:10.3200/JEXE.75.3.203-220 Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Psychology in the Schools, 30(1), 79-90. Hodgins, J. (2016). The Psychology of Belonging: A systematic review [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/62Rs7L, doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.29513.95840 Ingram, D. C. (2012). College students' sense of belonging: dimensions and correlates (Doctoral dissertation, Stanford University). Li, Y., & Lerner, R. M. (2011). Trajectories of school engagement during adolescence: implications for grades, depression, delinquency, and substance use. Developmental psychology, 47(1), 233. Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row. McMahon, S. D., Parnes, A. L., Keys, C. B., & Viola, J. J. (2008). School belonging among low‐income urban youth with disabilities: Testing a theoretical model. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 387-401. Sirin, S. R., & Rogers-Sirin, L. (2004). Exploring school engagement of middle-class African American adolescents. Youth & Society, 35(3), 323-340. Slaten, C. D., Ferguson, J. K., Allen, K. A., Brodrick, D. V., & Waters, L. (2016). School Belonging: A Review of the History, Current Trends, and Future Directions. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 33(1), 1-15. Willms, J. D. (2000). Monitoring school performance for ‘standards-based reform’. Evaluation & Research in Education, 14, 237–253. Costello, A. B., & Osborne, J. W. (2005). Best practices in exploratory factor analysis: Four recommendations for getting the most from your analysis. Practical assessment, research & evaluation, 10(7), 1-9.
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