Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Educational Technology


Educational Technology

Major Advisor

Dazhi Yang, Ph.D.


Chareen Lee Snelson, Ed.D.


Jesús Trespalacios, Ph.D.


Establishing a sense of community is important for student success in online environments. However, how online graduate students experience a sense of community to the higher learning institution providing their courses or degree is an area not fully explored. This study investigated how graduate students in a completely online program perceived their sense of community to their institution. Further, this research examined how the institution supported or could better support its students through services and/or aid to develop a greater sense of connection and belonging among its online learners. A mixed methods approach was utilized, gathering quantitative data using the Sense of Community Index-2 survey, with subsequent semi-structured qualitative interviews providing further insight into the quantitative outcome. Results of the survey indicate that participants (N=91) reported a somewhat low sense of community and had the lowest mean on the subscale of “membership”, referring to a student’s sense of belonging to a community. Seven themes emerged from the qualitative interviews (N=10) that indicated areas needing institutional support to improve a sense of community. The mixing of the two data sets allowed for triangulation and provided insight into how the qualitative themes supported the quantitative survey results. The mixed data revealed specific services and aid that can be considered to improve the SCI-2 total index and subscale scores. This study contributes to the understanding of how institutions can support and improve online students’ sense of community, and provides recommendations for services and/or aid that can be implemented online to serve this population.