Constructing Community in Online Programs: A Digital Case Study

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Conference Title

Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) Conference


Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Conference Dates

May 11-14, 2016

Date of Presentation



Nearly 25% of graduate students are in online programs, a number that is expected to grow by 20% over the next decade (Lederman, 2014; US Department of Education, 2011). Despite their rapid enrollment, online graduate programs have an attrition rate of between 30 and 70%. A sense of community is associated with retention in online programs (Liu, Gomez & Chrerng-Jyh, 2009). This exploratory case study draws on data collected from a cohort of 50 students spread across two online classes during their first semester of an online program to explore how students in online graduate programs construct community. Findings indicate that students and instructors used a variety of innovative practices to facilitate connection and support in the online space. Instructors’ were highly skilled with technology and used a variety of digital tools to foster collaborative learning, connection and community. Students also developed innovative practices to promote peer knowledge sharing and facilitate digital connections. The findings suggest that the proactive, technically savvy efforts of peers and instructors were instrumental in helping online students develop a sense of community.

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