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Belongingness, peer support, social connections, and well-being of WIL students in Canada, Germany, and Sweden
Faculty of Health, University of Waterloo Director, Well-Link Research Lab, St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo (CAN).
University West, Department of Social and Behavioural Studies, Division of Psychology, Pedagogy and Sociology. (LINA)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5259-0538
Faculty of Health, University of Waterloo Lab Manager, Well-Link Research Lab St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo (CAN).
Baden-Heidenheim Cooperative State University(DHBW), Heidenheim an der Brenz (DEU).
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2022 (English)In: International Conference on Work Integrated Learning: Abstract Book, Trollhättan: University West , 2022, p. 30-31Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Introduction

WIL in the context of higher education is a model of experiential education as per Kolb’s theory (Kolb, 1984; Kolb & Kolb, 2012) - which intentionally integrates students’ theoretical academic studies within a workplace or practical environment The purposeful integration of theory with practice supports learning, with the workplace serving as the mechanism for the enhanced learning, and while students are the primary focus of WIL, the essential philosophy is an educational partnership between universities, employers, and communities with the aim of providing students with an enriched learning experience (Blom, 2013; Johnston, 2017).

Students who participate in a work-integrated learning (WIL) program during their higher education studies are often better prepared for work after graduation compared to students who do not receive discipline specific practical experience (Mandal & Edwards, 2021; Smith et al., 2019; Weldon & Ngo, 2019). But does this better preparedness come with a price? Do these students - who often spend months away from their campus community – have adequate access to important support networks and/or do they struggle with their well-being? Research has shown that overall well-being, social and peer support, social connections, and establishing a strong sense of belonging are believed to be important in a successful school-to-work transition and achieving a strong career identity (Conely et al., 2014; Huegaerts et al., 2020; Ruschoff et al., 2018). Students who participate in WIL – however have less access to their peers and the university community due to being away for work terms (McBeath et al., 2018). It is unknown whether this influences their overall well-being and subsequent transition to full-time work after graduation. As such, they deserve attention in the research on participation in WIL programs and the subsequent transition to the labour market.

Goal and Research Questions

This study furthers our understanding of how support systems and sense of belonging impact student mental health and well-being during work-terms. The results can inform the design of a support intervention aimed at improving and maintaining health and well-being outcomes for WIL students. Results also contribute to the literature regarding WIL, sense of belonging, peer support, social connections, well-being, and preparedness for school-to-work transitions.

The study involved developing and administering a quantitative measure to examine aspects of, and the importance of, peer support and sense of belonging on improved mental health and well-being for WIL students. We also examined the role that social media and social connections played in this relationship. More specifically, we addressed the following research questions:

1. What perceptions do WIL students have about sense of belonging and peer support?

2. What demographic factors impact sense of belonging and peer support?

3. How does WIL influence peer support and sense of belonging?

4. How are peer support and sense of belonging related to mental health, and other psychological and health related outcomes in our WIL students?5. What role does social media and in particular virtual social connections play in sense of belonging, peer support, and well-being?6. What is the relationship between sense of belonging, peer support, social connections, mental health, and preparedness for school-to-work transitions? 

Methods

Data was collected from three institutions of higher education, namely University of Waterloo in Ca nada, University West in Sweden, and Baden-Heidenheim Cooperative State University (DHBW) in Germany. Ethical clearance was secured at all three institutions prior to data collection. Participants (WIL students) completed an online survey addressing sense of belonging, social and peer support, school-to-work self-efficacy, social media use, and well-being during their WIL placements. In addition to demographic variables (sex, age, year of study, and number of WIL placements) and constructed items measuring school-to-work efficacy and social media use for support and belonging, the survey also contained the following published scales:

  • Sense of Belonging Instrument (SOBI: Hagerty & Patusky, 1995)
  •  Psychological Sense of School Membership (PSSM: Goodenow, 1993)
  •  Interpersonal Support Evaluation List (ISEL -shortened version: Cohen et al., 1985)
  • Self-Description Questionnaire III (SDQ-III: Marsh & O’Neill, 1984)
  • Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS: Diener et al., 1985)
  •  Well-Being Manifestation Measure Scale (WBMMS: Massé et al., 1998) 

Consent to participate was indicated by the participant’s voluntary completion of the online survey. The survey took approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete. After correcting for missing data, the final data set had a sample size of 480 (University of Waterloo, n=190; University West, n=112, DHBW, n=178).

Data Analysis

Descriptive analyses provided frequencies, percentages, means, and standard deviations for the demographic variables. A series of t-tests were run to determine significant differences on the dependent variables as a function of country and demographics. A series of ANOVAs followed by Tukeys’ HSD post hoc analysis, were run to determine significant main effects. Levene’s test was performed for the demographic independent variables and the assumption of homogeneity of variance was satisfied. Finally, correlational analysis was run to examine significant relationships between the dependent variables – Sense of Belonging, Peer Support, school-to-work efficacy, Mental Health, and Well-Being. Incomplete scales (i.e., missing data) were eliminated from the analysis.

Results

Results indicated that WIL students from the three institutions reported only moderate levels of sense of belonging, however they perceived high levels of support from their peers. Higher levels of sense of belonging to the university community and access to high quality peer support was strongly related to better overall mental health and well-being. Interestingly, while WIL students perceived social media and virtual social connections during work terms as playing an important role in supporting their sense of belonging to peers and the university community, they preferred face to face social interactions for promoting their well-being. Additional results and implications will be provided in the presentation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Trollhättan: University West , 2022. p. 30-31
Keywords [en]
Well-being, health, WIL, work-integrated learning, sense of belonging, peer support, social connections
National Category
Applied Psychology Learning
Research subject
Work Integrated Learning
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hv:diva-19542ISBN: 9789189325302 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hv-19542DiVA, id: diva2:1725248
Conference
WIL'22 International Conference on Work Integrated Learning, 7-9 December 2022, University West, Trollhättan, Sweden
Note

The general theme of the conference is: “WIL in the service of society”

Available from: 2023-01-10 Created: 2023-01-10 Last updated: 2023-01-31Bibliographically approved

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