Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Education in Christian Leadership (EdD)


Steve Lowe


Community, Online Education, Course Design, Education, Learning


Education | Online and Distance Education


The purpose of this phenomenological study is to describe the sense of community experienced in online courses for Doctor of Ministry students at Liberty University. At this stage in the research, sense of community will be generally defined using Rovai’s (2002a) definition. Rovai (2002a) defines classroom community using four dimensions: “spirit, trust, interaction, and commonality of expectation and goals, in this case, learning” (p. 4). Essentially, members of a classroom community, according to Rovai (2002a), experience each of these four dimensions. A number of authors argue that a sense of community can be promoted in online classrooms (Rovai & Baker, 2004; Arasaratnam-Smith & Northcote, 2017; Lowe & Lowe, 2018). This study will seek to look specifically at how students in the online Doctor of Ministry program at Liberty University describe the sense of community they experienced in a particular online course after the course has been deliberately designed to include increased personal interaction amongst peers. Many scholars have noted the vital importance of community for online courses. This proposed study will seek to determine what impact certain course design may have on the perceived sense of community experienced in online doctoral courses. The study will utilize a phenomenological design to determine how students describe the sense of community in their online courses by conducting interviews. The sample will consist of Online Doctor of Ministry students enrolled in DMIN 810 offered through the John W. Rawlings School of Divinity at Liberty University. The data will be analyzed by looking for consistent, meaningful patterns that help one understand the phenomenon of sense of community in online courses.