Promotion of student engagement by online community college faculty

Vance Aguiar, Alicia
Major Professor
Linda S. Hagedorn
Committee Member
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Online higher education courses continue to attract students across the U.S. However, online student persistence, particularly in community colleges, continues to lag traditional delivery. It is well known that student engagement may lead to improved academic performance and persistence. Previous research has identified how faculty communication and teaching strategies promote student engagement, yet it is not always clear to what extent these strategies are implemented. In virtual education, faculty are often the primary connection online students have with the institution. Additional study was needed to determine to what extent online faculty implement strategies that promote student engagement and how faculty perceive and define online student engagement. This exploratory quantitative study sought to validate the Community of Inquiry framework, emphasizing online faculty teaching strategies that promote interactive teaching, cognitive and social presence. Using this framework, a survey instrument modified from previous publications was distributed to online faculty teaching in four community colleges in the Midwest. Survey responses provided data about faculty personal and teaching demographics, communication methods, and teaching strategies. In addition, definitions and perceptions of student engagement in their online courses were analyzed. There was high participation in the survey, a nearly 50% response rate. A large proportion of participants had received prior training in student engagement practices and consistently reported implementing strategies that promote teaching, cognitive and social presence. Teaching practices that promote social presence were found to be the most significant predictor of student engagement, yet these were least likely to have been implemented. This study affirms prior research connecting the Community of Inquiry framework with perceived student engagement, but is the first to do so based on faculty data. Faculty definitions of online student engagement varied, but centered around active participation and interactions with faculty and other students. Implications from the study can be used to further hone teaching standards for online faculty that especially focus on social presence strategies. These efforts can contribute to improving online student performance and persistence through a consistent student engagement definition and distance education mission