The Role of Instructors and Peers in Establishing Classroom Community

By Booker, Keonya C. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2008 | Go to article overview

The Role of Instructors and Peers in Establishing Classroom Community


Booker, Keonya C., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The need to belong and feel a sense of community is decidedly important during the undergraduate experience. In this study, undergraduate perceptions of classroom community were examined using a modified version of the College and University Community Inventory (CUCI). Results illustrate that students regard their teachers more highly in their favorite classes and peers more important in their least favorite classes. Female students also reported a stronger sense of community in their favorite classes than did males. Directions for future research are discussed.

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As undergraduate enrollments increase across the country, institutions of higher education are facing an influx of diverse populations of students. A critical charge for these colleges and universities is to create a sense of community among various demographic groups. Multiple terms are used in the literature on campus community, including "belonging," "relatedness," "classroom connection," and "engagement," to name a few (Osterman 2000). However, what really is campus community and how is it fostered? Discussions of campus belonging include a myriad of influences on the college student experience, such as the effect of engaging student affairs programming, athletic participation, faculty-student interactions, and residential learning communities. Of particular interest in the current study is the academic classroom as a source of student sense of community on a college campus. Specifically, within this environment what role do faculty and peer interactions have on student perceptions of community in an academic setting?

Literature Review

A well-established tenet in the student persistence literature is the importance of student involvement in degree attainment (Astin 1993; Cabrera, Nora, and Castaneda 1993; Stage 1989; Terenzini et al. 1994). In particular, the more a student is involved in the life and activity of the campus, the more likely they will persist until graduation. In empirical and theoretical discussions of classroom community, the primary issues of analyses have been what students do outside of the classroom setting. Specifically, student affairs programming, involvement in co-curricular activities, and intercultural programs all act as vehicles by which students can develop a sense of connection to their campus community (Cheng 2004; Schroeder, DiTeberio, and Kalsbeek 1989). However, less is known about how classroom social interactions between student-teacher and student-student affect relatedness, or connection, in the learning environment. Classrooms, with their emphasis on knowledge, discovery, and social integration are places where faculty and student bodies traverse (Tinto 1997). It is important to study this dynamic because the degree and nature of interaction between these groups is critical in uncovering identifiable determinants of classroom community.

The aforementioned principles of engagement and participation in campus social activities can be applied to research on classroom community. That is, when students are active participants in class, volunteer, ask questions, assist other students, and reflect on their learning, they show higher levels of learning and a more positive view of the course and instructor (Nunn 1996). Cheng (2004) notes, "The most important principle of community involves faculty and students in a common commitment to teaching and learning" (228). To what end are faculty and student interactions a factor in perceptions of belongingness? In particular, when undergraduate students consider their favorite and least favorite courses, how do faculty and other classmates add to or detract from a sense of community?

This line of research is especially critical in understanding how the actions of faculty and peers can influence student views on their sense of relatedness to others in the classroom setting. To disentangle this problem, one needs to look no further than the body of research that has explored the college classroom experience (Auster and MacRone 1994; Endo and Harpel 1982; Salter 2003). …

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