Date of Conferral

2015

Degree

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

School

Education

Advisor

Dan Cernusca

Abstract

Students who obtain college degrees have a higher earning potential and greater likelihood of employment. Although researchers have found that student enrollment and performance in online college courses has increased, attrition has also risen at a higher rate than in face-to-face courses. The problem of declining persistence in online courses at a rural community college in the Southeastern United States was addressed in this study. The community of inquiry framework was used in this qualitative case study to explore perceptions of 10 experienced online learners. The research questions were focused on students' perceptions of the roles of connectedness and student engagement as well as the techniques and strategies used to maintain connectedness. Data were collected through semistructured online audio interviews that were recorded, transcribed, open coded, and analyzed thematically. Findings indicated that students perceived the presence of engaging materials, elevated instructor presence, established social presence, and confirmed learning as promoters of cognitive presence and students' online course persistence. The resulting project consisted of a hybrid workshop series designed to enhance instructors' pedagogical practices to promote engagement and persistence in online courses. The workshop evaluation provided both formative and summative feedback from the workshop participants. The project contributes to social change through the ability of educators and program developers of online courses to garner new knowledge, as well as contributions to the continued viability of the focus institution and long-term economic stability for students.