Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Richard Hammett


Emotional intelligence (EI) has been related to facets of higher education success in brick and mortar environments. Little is known, however, about how EI manifests in higher education distance learning (HEDL) environments. The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore HEDL undergraduate and graduate instructor perceptions of their use of EI so that best practices could be identified for online teaching. Guided by transformative emotional intelligence theory and the emotional learning system model, the 3 research questions were designed to clarify online instructors' EI knowledge, EI skills and strategies used by online instructors, and instructors' perceptions about the importance of instructor-student relationships for online student success. A purposeful sample of 13 participants was recruited using 2 online social networks and 1 university instructor participant pool. Selection criteria stratified the sample based on gender, level taught (undergraduate/graduate), and years teaching in HEDL. Semi-structured interview transcripts were analyzed using first-cycle ad hoc coding followed by second-cycle NVivo coding. Member checks and peer debriefs validated the data analysis and resulting themes. The primary themes included (a) identifying, understanding, and managing emotions, (b) using positive influence in dealings with students, and (c) the importance of instructor-student rapport. Interpreting the themes with recent literature revealed that EI-centric skills modeled by HEDL instructors improve self-management skills, engender positive emotional connections, and increase cognitive awareness for instructors and their students. Higher education instructors who model EI in HEDL environments improve instructional practice in ways that lead to positive social change by improving the quality of the HEDL experience for themselves and their students.

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