Building Community in Online Doctoral Classrooms: Instructor Practices that Support Community

Sharla Berry


Instructors play a role in helping online students develop a sense of community in virtual classrooms, but little is known about instructors’ roles in online graduate programs. To explore the ways in which online instructors helped students create a learning community, defined as a space of connection, closeness and interactivity, the researcher analyzed 50 hours of video footage from four online classrooms as well as the message boards attached to those courses. The researcher triangulated the observations of classroom community with interviews from 13 first-year students from the online doctoral program to explore their perspectives on instructor strategies that promoted community. Findings from this qualitative case study indicate that instructors helped students develop a sense of community by creating a warm and welcoming tone in the classroom, and by using technology in a variety of ways to engage all students and create a personalized learning experience.


learning community, higher education, graduate education, teaching practices

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