Date of Conferral







Patricia A. McGee


University personnel offering online doctoral degrees struggle to address high attrition of students in the dissertation phase; these students can feel isolated, disconnected, and unmotivated. The purpose of this study was to explore ways online doctoral students in the dissertation phase used social networking sites (SNS) to overcome isolation and to increase persistence. The conceptual framework was situated in communities of practice (CoP) and the theory on self-determination. Research questions explored participants' experiences with using SNS to remain connected and persistent. Data were collected from in-depth interviews with 7 online doctoral students, who met the criteria of being in the dissertation phase for a minimum of 2 quarters and using at least 1 social networking site; the participants were from 4 online institutions in the United States. An interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to examine themes and interpret the lived experiences of participants. Findings revealed that online doctoral students in the dissertation phase valued working with peers and with doctoral graduates from other institutions as a strategy to remain persistent in completing their dissertations. They focused on learning and on sharing with others for social and emotional support in a safe environment. Other elements included being held accountable and being challenged to keep moving. The results could influence instructional design for online doctoral candidates emphasizing the use of SNS for support from a CoP. Implications for positive social change include higher education personnel supporting unmonitored SNS interactions and increasing trust within school-created SNS spaces for students in the dissertation phase.