Exploring the journey towards belonging : A collaborative autoethnographic study of educational stakeholders in a virtual learning environment using actor-network theory

Delia, Cassandra Sturgeon (2023) Exploring the journey towards belonging : A collaborative autoethnographic study of educational stakeholders in a virtual learning environment using actor-network theory. Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning, 3 (3).

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This study delves into the experiences of an educator, a learning support assistant, and two parents, as they navigated a virtual learning environment and strove to establish their sense of belonging. During the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, this collaborative autoethnographic research sheds light on the collective first-hand encounters of these stakeholders entering the virtual learning space in a vocational education setting in Malta.The study unveils, through three themes, the intricate relationships and connections underlying the stakeholders’ experiences by applying actor-network theory to the analysis. First, the study reveals the initial feelings of alienation and isolation experienced by all of the actors during the transition to the virtual learning environment. These challenges resulted in a loss of power and a sense of disconnection. However, these negative experiences also catalysed the individuals to seek a sense of belonging, recognising it as an emotional need for connection. Intrinsic motivation drove the individuals to rebuild networks, acquire new skills, and form alliances.The second theme focuses on the barriers and opportunities encountered throughout the journey towards a sense of belonging. Despite the common challenges, the actors exhibited resilience, adaptability, and self-assurance, overcoming these barriers. They discovered newfound strengths within themselves and embraced change as an opportunity for personal growth and innovation. Collaboration and seeking support from others within the virtual learning environment proved instrumental in overcoming the challenges and fostering a sense of belonging. The final theme highlights the emergence of an inner sense of connection and an external sense of belonging through the actors’ engagement within the virtual learning environment. Meaningful relationships and deeper levels of engagement created emotional connections and fostered a sense of fulfilment and belonging. The commitment of the educator and learning support assistant to engage actively with students and parents played a pivotal role in constructing a network that facilitated a sense of belonging for all participants.By employing actor-network theory, this study offers a nuanced understanding of the multi-faceted dynamics within the virtual learning environment. It goes beyond a simplistic examination of individual experiences and explores the entanglement of human and non-human actors, emphasising the relational nature of belonging. This approach allows for a comprehensive analysis of the complex socio-technical networks that influence the stakeholders’ journeys towards belonging, providing valuable insights for educators, supporting staff, policymakers, and researchers in understanding, and enhancing virtual learning experiences. This paper aims to reach a diverse audience, including parents or caregivers supporting students as they embark on a virtual educational journey. It seeks to provide a compelling account of the significant role of a sense of belonging in education through storytelling. By presenting a narrative approach, the paper offers a relatable and engaging perspective that resonates with parents and caregivers, helping them grasp the importance of fostering a sense of belonging in the virtual learning environment.

Item Type:
Journal Article
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Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning
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29 May 2024 09:55
Last Modified:
16 Jul 2024 01:15