In 2017, the Teaching and Learning Lab (T+LL) received an MIT MindHandHeart Innovation Fund grant to launch the “You Belong @ MIT” initiative. The goal of the initiative is to disseminate research-based practices that increase students’ sense of belonging and to motivate faculty and staff to design and implement local interventions.
Continuing this dissemination effort, on May 1 T+LL hosted a seminar for the MIT community by Greg Walton, Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Walton’s research focuses on understanding psychological processes that contribute to social problems and on developing interventions that affect these processes to help people thrive. Walton shared his work with an over-capacity audience in the Pappalardo Room. A video of the presentation and accompanying slides are available on T+LL’s website.
Walton has initiated and collaborated on a number of research projects to develop wise interventions that target the belonging uncertainty that may be experienced by historically marginalized groups. For example, he has developed interventions that target student belonging in the transition to college, in engineering departments, and even in specific contexts such as academic probation cases. These brief interventions target how students interpret experiences, including but not limited to adverse experiences such as receiving critical feedback or a poor grade. When people feel that they belong, they feel more confident and motivated, increasing the possibility that they will seek additional learning opportunities (e.g., undergraduate research) and help and support when needed (e.g., attend office hours, study with peers). In a multitude of randomized controlled trials conducted at a variety of higher education institutions, Walton and colleagues have seen belonging interventions produce positive outcomes such as increased GPA, higher retention, better health outcomes, increased confidence, more help-seeking behaviors, and greater life satisfaction for marginalized groups. Which positive outcomes are recognized and for whom depends on the educational context.
Walton’s work has led to a standard, campus-wide implementation of belonging interventions for all incoming students at Stanford. His work has also led to the revision of academic probation letters at Stanford to offer hope to students, emphasize that they are not alone, that there are many reasons why academic probation might arise, and that academic probation is a process, not a label.
If you would like to discuss Walton’s research further and consider how it might be implemented at MIT, please contact the Teaching + Learning Lab
—Dipa Shah, T+LL