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Being Flat People: A Phenomenological Study of Graduate Nursing Students' Perceptions in Synchronous-Blended Courses

Brett L Erickson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


One-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, and represent an increasingly diverse population; simultaneously, these regions have reduced access to physicians, placing greater emphasis on the social justice of health care, and the importance of nurse practitioners as primary providers. Due to their geographic isolation, securing additional training from graduate schools presents a challenge for nurses residing in such areas, meaning they may utilize distance education in achieving those goals. Synchronous-blended distance programs mix distance students, who attend virtually using telecommuting hardware and software, with traditional, in-seat students. Unfortunately, when blending virtual and physical classrooms, the distance student—held hostage by technological and two-dimensional shortcomings—is relegated to an Other. This experience of Being Flat People is a unique issue within distance education. While quantitative research suggests social and cognitive interaction is key to successful distance education, there is scant qualitative work examining learners’ perceptions of distance experiences in synchronous-blended settings: classroom social status; cognitive presence; transactional distance; and emotional classroom connectedness. This dissertation is a transcendental phenomenological investigation of how eight graduate nursing students perceived their experiences as distance students in synchronous-blended learning environments. It employs a philosophical lens of normative belonging in evaluating the status of distance students in these classes, and the study reveals conflicting feelings about being “there, but not there,” technological barriers, support systems, and the importance of independence. Finally, it presents a model, the Transactional Continuum, as a next step for understanding and improving the experiences of distance students in medical education and beyond.

Subject Area

Nursing|Health education|Educational technology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Erickson, Brett L, "Being Flat People: A Phenomenological Study of Graduate Nursing Students' Perceptions in Synchronous-Blended Courses" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10980492.