Our Responsibility to Foster Student Belonging, Engagement and Equality

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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This is a story about engagement, motivation, and curiosity. About creating environments in which students can not only learn, but belong. It is not my story. It is formed by the stories we hear from students every day, stories often telling us the same thing in their own way. Over the last two years, those stories commonly recount the individual experiences of having been disengaged from learning throughout the pandemic. The stories are from individuals, but collectively they begin to sound like a thunder that has been building for some time on the horizon and is now over your home. 

My home is Macmillan Learning where I have spent the last twenty years working, thinking, and engaging with ideas that support student learning and effective teaching practices. At no time have we felt a greater responsibility to the students and educators that we serve than we do today. 

This responsibility, and the weight that we bear with it, is a coalescence of factors -- many of them exacerbated by pandemic learning in the last two years. Pre-pandemic, the trends towards hybrid learning were well-substantiated and the shift of educational solutions companies towards effective practices in digital pedagogy has been proceeding at a steady pace. Educators have long been partnering with groups like Macmillan Learning to provide a fuller digital experience for their students; we are now over a decade into the common usage of learning platforms inside and outside the classroom that provide learning opportunities in the form of interactives, video activities and simulations, and animations coupled with formative assessment practices. 

Today, we are exploring learning opportunities in ways that were uncommon when I first began my career:  the close partnerships with instructors as we co-design products for their classrooms; the presence of more and more former educators on our full-time staff; and increasing possibilities unlocked when students inform their own learning journey. More so, we are pressed to take steps beyond our content to deliver upon a promise for a better learning experience and a better educational environment within our programs. And that’s where I come back to the stories of students -- and stories about engagement, motivation, and curiosity -- and the ways that we can improve upon an imperfect situation.

Importantly, at Macmillan Learning, we’re focusing on the student in ways that reach beyond the content they learn. We are delving deeper into the motivation and sense of belonging (or lack thereof) that is inherently linked to their success.  Research from peer-reviewed journals has demonstrated that students who feel an increased sense of belonging on their campus and within their classes tend to persist through their courses and ultimately to graduation at a higher rate. We are using that research as the basis to create new opportunities for students to build their sense of belonging when interacting with and utilizing our programs. To ensure we are successful in this effort, our learning science team partners with institutions that serve students who traditionally have a lower sense of belonging so their experiences inform the programs we create to support them. . 

As we continue the launch of our new learning platform, Achieve, it will be students' engagement with skill-building tools, support for self-regulated learning, and the development of their sense of belonging that pairs so importantly with their ability to see themselves in the content of their course.  And we are exploring the degree in which  these two factors are linked: whether a sense of belonging can create an environment that draws upon a student’s inherent sense of curiosity but perhaps only to a limited effect if they cannot see their experience in the content of the course. Or as our authors and editorial teams continue to create diverse content and pedagogical structures that are inclusive and culturally responsive, we are investigating whether the learning experience will become more equitable as each student develops a sense of belonging that will propel them to succeed. 

The stories that motivate us each day are the stories we hear from students, and each of them provides us with another opportunity to take forward our mission to be a leading contributor to student success through student engagement. And we will never tire of the things we learn from working directly with students and educators, not as long as those stories are being told, being shared, and remain the source of inspiration for all of us at Macmillan Learning.