Authenticity and connection online

Authenticity and connection online – The impact of exploring the psychological aspects of online learning on engagement and a sense of belonging for students and staff

Gillian Proctor (School of Healthcare)

Project Overview

This project is about how the online environment shapes our self-awareness and relating to others: our authenticity, identity, sense of connection, engagement, belonging and consequent ability to learn. Factors such as telepresence (Turkle 2004), self-consciousness (of own image), unnatural frontality, bonding and body visibility, implications of no videos on trust and engagement, the online disinhibition effect, abrupt transitions, the blurring of public and private space and digital inequalities are crucial to navigate in ways which promote inclusion and belonging for all students and staff.

This project will research the application of these factors to online learning environments to support staff to develop pedagogically informed digital practices and facilitate students’ learning.

The research approach

The project will explore the aspects of belonging, authenticity and inclusion within the online learning space through a range of methods including:

  • An evaluation of an online seminar with staff to explore staff engagement, sense of belonging and inclusion online and staff’s confidence to facilitate students’ engagement, sense of belonging, inclusion and learning online.
  • To offer this same online seminar to several groups of students, particularly to students who are at risk of feeling exclusion. To evaluate the impact of this seminar on students’ engagement, sense of belonging, inclusion and learning online.
  • To facilitate a series of two self-selecting cooperative inquiry participatory action research groups: one of teaching staff across the university and one of students. These groups will discuss how to apply these ideas to the education context, to facilitate student engagement, sense of belonging, inclusion and learning online and develop guidance.
  • To develop a framework for the continuous evaluation and improvement of online environments to make them engaging and inclusive.

To find out more about the project contact Gillian (

Each fellowship has a project sponsor that helps the fellows achieve impact across the institution. The sponsor for this fellowship is Alice O’Grady.

Project start date: January 2022