Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Administration, Under the Supervision of Professor James O’Hanlon. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 William Feeler


The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of experienced individual online students at a community college in Texas in order to generate a substantive theory of community college student perceptions of online instructor presence. This qualitative study used Active Interviewing and followed a Straussian grounded-theory design to guide the collecting and coding of interview data in order to identify emerging categories and generate substantive theory. The researcher collected data through interviews with 16 online students, all of whom had taken at least four online courses at a community college.

A constant comparative analysis of the data generated a substantive grounded theory, the Theory of Establishing and Sustaining Instructor Presence to Enable Student Learning. This emergent theory states that the perception of instructor presence results from the student-instructor relationship, that it is established and sustained through four phases of instructor activity and student response: the conditional phase in which student and instructor respond to perceived needs, especially the need for flexibility, by choosing an online course (Hotel in Tahiti); the phase in which the instructor through course design and welcoming activities invites the student to full participation (Bienvenidos); the phase in which the instructor sustains presence by fulfilling the commitments of the previous phase (Cats in Sombreros); and, finally, the phase in which the instructor may shift from strong instructor presence using direct instruction to lesser presence facilitating interaction and using indirect instruction while the student becomes a more active learner and develops greater self-directedness and self-teaching (Kick It Up a Notch). The theory also presents a process definition of instructor presence and offers an explanation for the relationship between the instructor roles of active instruction and facilitation.

The study recommends further qualitative research into perceptions of students in other regions, of students at other levels of study—including baccalaureate and graduate students, and of students who are less successful in online course work.

Advisor: James O’Hanlon