Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Student Support Networks in Online Doctoral Programs: Exploring Nested Communities

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Student Support Networks in Online Doctoral Programs: Exploring Nested Communities

Article excerpt

Aim/Purpose         Enrollment in online doctoral programs has grown                     over the past decade. A sense of community, defined                     as feelings of closeness within a social group, is                     vital to retention, but few studies have explored                     how online doctoral students create community. Background          In this qualitative case study, I explore how                     students in one online doctoral program created a                     learning community. Methodology         Data for the study was drawn from 60 hours of video                     footage from six online courses, the message boards                     from the six courses, and twenty interviews with                     first and second-year students. Contribution        Findings from this study indicate that the                     structure of the social network in an online                     doctoral program is significantly different from                     the structure of learning communities in                     face-to-face programs. In the online program, the                     doctoral community was more insular, more                     peer-centered, and less reliant on faculty support                     than in in-person programs. Findings            Utilizing a nested communities theoretical                     framework, I identified four subgroups that                     informed online doctoral students' sense of                     community: cohort, class groups, small peer                     groups, and study groups. Students interacted                     frequently with members of each of the                     aforementioned social groups and drew academic,                     social, and emotional support from their                     interactions. Recommendations     Data from this study suggests that online doctoral for Practitioners   students are interested in making social and                     academic connections. Practitioners should leverage                     technology and on-campus supports to promote                     extracurricular interactions for online students. Recommendation      Rather than focus on professional socialization, for Researchers     students in the online doctoral community were                     interested in providing social and academic                     support to peers. Researchers should consider how                     socialization in online doctoral programs differs                     from traditional, face-to-face programs. Impact on Society   As universities increase online offerings, it is                     important to consider the issues that impact                     retention in online programs. By identifying the                     social structures that support online community,                     this study helps build knowledge around retention                     and engagement of online students. Future Research     Future research should continue to explore the                     unique social networks that support online                     students. Keywords            community, online learning, virtual classrooms,                     cohort, social network, socialization 

INTRODUCTION

Many students enroll in doctoral programs expecting rigor and anticipating academic challenges. However, students often encounter unexpected social challenges in pursuit of the doctorate (Golde, 2005). Numerous studies suggest that doctoral students struggle with isolation, disengagement, anxiety, and depression (Stubb, Pyhalto, & Lonka, 2011; Wyatt & Oswalt, 2013). Research suggests that a sense of community can be a protective factor against isolation and disengagement (Drouin, 2008; Outzs, 2006; Rovai, 2002) and can help doctoral students manage feelings of anxiety and depression in some cases (Stubb et al., 2011). A sense of community is defined as an overall feeling of member-ship, belonging, and trust within a supportive social group (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). …

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