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Emotional safety and identity expression within online learning environments in higher education: Insights from a Canadian college

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
  • Karen Fiege
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Publication date5/05/2020
Number of pages165
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date7/04/2020
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Assuring quality learning is increasingly important to higher education institutions (HEIs) in Canada, especially with continued e-marketplace, online enrolment growth, and programming internationalization. This thesis narrows the topic of quality assurance (QA) in learning to emotional safety and identity expression in online learning environments (OLEs). Creating and facilitating a safe OLE is imperative for many reasons, most notably because it can positively impact retention, learner satisfaction, and academic success.

This thesis will argue that feeling safe within an OLE is a necessary condition for learners to express aspects of their identity, resulting in a perceived increase in grades. Identity expression is part of transformational learning and thus becomes important to teaching and learning. The conditions for expressing identity online, therefore, ought to be encouraged and enhanced, making the role of the instructor paramount in this aspect of quality.

The study was conducted by gathering the thoughts and experiences of nine instructors and nine learners (n=18) using a single-site data gathering methodology. Through study findings, this thesis contributes to educational research in four ways. One, my theoretical framework is based on Illeris' (2007, 2014a, 2018a) learning and identity theory, which supports the emerging notion that identity is intrinsically connected to and centrally positioned within the overall learning process. Two, I gathered perspectives and experiences of both instructors and learners on this topic, which is uncharacteristic within educational research yet arguably critical when developing a comprehensive understanding of such topics and in the design and provision of HE supports and services. Three, this research study extends the sparsely researched area of emotional safety in conjunction with identity expression within HE OLEs and confirmed its importance and role in QA. Four, the findings support the importance of an emotionally safe OLE and such an OLE can positively impact learner grades and experience.