Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Ralph G. Brockett

Committee Members

Edward L. Counts, Trena M. Paulus, George C. Petty


This study was designed and implemented to describe the experiences of doctoral students using an online discussion forum and determine the effectiveness of this type of instructional tool. Specifically, this study examined the students' experiences with overall communication, themes of the discussion board/forum, and traits and/or skills, which were needed for this online environment, with the purpose of determining how these experiences may have enhanced or hindered their overall course experience.

The specific approach used for this research was a qualitative case study methodology, which consisted of face-to-face interviews conducted with doctoral students from a small private university in the southeastern United States. Data were collected using a face-to-face semi-structured interview approach whereby open-ended interviews of the participants were conducted using a general interview guide. Using Miles and Huberman's (1994) approach, participants' responses were evaluated for similarities and differences and then categories of like content or themes were developed.

Participants in this study described their experiences with using the online discussion forum in terms of four overall themes including: (1) learning to use the technology, (2) creating a voice for every student, (3) flexibility of the medium and, (4) frustration with online communication. Findings from this study indicate that students portray many benefits of using an online discussion forum as a supplement to a traditional face-to-face course including: flexibility of the online communication, creating a voice for all students and ease of communication. However, from the perspective of the learner, there are also many negative aspects to this type of learning environment, including, but not limited to: the lack of initial training, the lack of nonverbal communication cues in the online environment, the lack of guidelines for students as to what is expected of them in this type of online communication and the concerns of miscommunication via online discussion.

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