Contributing Factors to Engagement in Online Learning Environments: The Relationship Between Sense of Community and Participation
AuthorSouth, Susan E.
Committee ChairBauman, Sheri
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractSince its inception, online continuing education programs have experienced great variation in the degree of participation among students. There is a growing body of literature suggesting that a sense of community is a possible predictor of participation in educational programs. Since online instruction is not conducted face-to-face, direct social interaction is missing. However, there exists a variety of online instructional methods that are designed to create social interaction and thus facilitate and foster a sense of community among participants in these programs.This dissertation sought to identify a model that would suggest what variables related to a sense of community might predict participation among students enrolled in an online continuing education program. This investigation included development of an instrument to measure participants' feeling of a sense of community, and examination of the relationship of the instrument scores with three components of participation (overall participation, interactive participation, and non-interactive participation).This investigation was conducted on a two-year online continuing medical education program at a university located in the southwestern United States. The participants were physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician's assistants representing three different cohorts.Item analysis of the instrument to measure sense of community revealed a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of .89. A principal components analysis using an orthogonal (varimax) rotation produced four factors (subscales) with Cronbach's alpha coefficients ranging from .70 to .86.The overall sense of community and four subscale scores were then compared to participation scores of participants. Preliminary analyses revealed no gender or cohort differences. A significant correlation was found between communicating for understanding subscale scores and interactive participation scores. Significant positive correlation coefficients were also found between the overall sense of community score and overall participation score as well as interactive participation score.This preliminary investigation indicated that the sense of community instrument developed for this study is a reliable measure including four factors which constitute a definition of sense of community. Further, it revealed that interactive participation in the course may be predicted from communicating for understanding and that sense of community is positively correlated to overall participation and interactive participation, but not to non-interactive participation.
Degree ProgramEducational Psychology