Abstract: The study examines how the use of online social networking sites can help social and academic integration among students who are living off campus. Research has shown that students who live off campus during the academic year experience greater difficulty with social integration, particularly in their first year. A survey was distributed among a cohort of 370 first year undergraduate students, measuring their sense of belonging to the institution and their attitudes towards student life. Students who lived on campus and who used social networking sites reported stronger sense of belonging than students living off campus. A significant interaction effect indicated that using social networking sites reduced the difference in sense of belonging between students living on and off campus. Scores on the attitude scale were significantly related to sense of belonging. The results suggest the use of online networking can aid social integration among students who do not have the advantage of the face-to-face interaction that takes place in residential life on campus.
Going to university is for most students both an exciting and daunting experience. Students face many new challenges such as meeting new people, making friends, living away from home, and taking on academic responsibilities. It is also an important part of the transition to adulthood for an increasing number of young people. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) the number of students accepted on to courses at British universities passed 500.000 in 2009. During this transition stage, the degree to which students feel they belong to the institution at which they are enrolled can have a significant impact on their overall experience of university life, satisfaction, and academic attainment. Many educational researchers are in agreement that the sense of belonging, or the cohesion a student has with a particular institution, is one of the most important requirements to ensure individuals‟ proper functioning within a learning environment (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Goodenow, 1993; Finn, 1989; Osterman, 2000). Social integration is consistently found to impact student persistence, and developing valued relationships is an important part of that integration (Astin 1984; Tinto 1998). Studies show that attrition often occurs among first year students who have not been integrated into the campus community (Christie & Dinham 1991). The present study is part of a larger project funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) investigating antecedents and effects of sense of belonging among students at the University of Leicester, UK. Sense of Belonging Undergraduate student persistence is a broadly studied topic within the field of higher education studies. Key in this work is the research of Tinto (1975, 1988, 1997). Focusing on institutional structural factors, Tinto‟s theory posits that early withdrawal is impacted by a variety of factors. As students come into an institution, they do so with a variety of backgrounds, intents, and commitments. On arrival, two key concepts affect persistence: academic and social integration. If students are not well integrated into the university or college environment, they are at increased risk of withdrawing.
Sense of belonging as a concept is often used interchangeably with social integration. However, Hurtado and Carter (1997) argued for sense of belonging as a measure empirically distinct from integration. Sense of belonging is a psychological factor focusing on students‟ subjective feelings of connectedness or cohesion to the institution. In a longitudinal study, Hurtado and Carter explored a set of factors...