Date of Conferral







Cheryl Keen


The number of postsecondary students taking online classes increased in the last 2 decades and grew substantially in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning offers opportunities for postsecondary students who cannot or do not want to attend face-to-face classes but presents a challenge with some students feeling disconnected. Positive faculty social presence is a way to address this issue. The purpose of this basic descriptive, qualitative study was to explore the underresearched area of postsecondary students’ perceptions of faculty social presence in online gateway classes at a 4-year, private, nonprofit university in the U.S. Midwest focused on adult learners. The research questions addressed how participants perceived faculty social presence in the online classes and how that presence affected their learning. The conceptual framework was Garrison’s concept of social presence. Eight students participated in semistructured interviews, and the resulting data were coded for emergent themes. Findings showed that how professors demonstrated social presence affected how students felt about the faculty and course and how students perceived that presence affected their learning. Students reported perceiving synchronous virtual meetings, asynchronous interactions, and faculty demeanor as the most important ways professors demonstrated their social presence and affected the students’ learning. The findings could lead to positive social change by increasing knowledge of how postsecondary online students perceive faculty social presence and how that affects their learning as well as helping online postsecondary faculty adjust their social presence so students might have improved success and earn degrees, leading to better jobs and benefits.