School of Education


Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)


Janet Deck


first-year students, online learning, higher education, sociocultural theory, community of inquiry


Adult and Continuing Education | Online and Distance Education


The purpose of this case study was to understand first-year college students’ perspectives on online discussion boards in the context of learning, via the community of inquiry framework. The theory guiding this study is Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which identifies how learners create their own learning experiences in the classroom. The theory’s value comes from it being used to understand student thought in discussion boards, which is the study’s focus. A case study was the design, and the goal was to gather empirical data from discussion board experiences from students. The central research question was What are the experiences of a group of first-year nontraditional students engaged in a discussion board for a virtual English composition course? Fourteen students, 13 females and one male, made up the sample. Their discussion board responses, individual interviews, and group study recordings represent the qualitative data. All data were collected in a virtual setting via the online classroom, as well as Zoom. Interpretational phenomenological analysis was employed to analyze student interview responses, the group study, and discussion board responses to uncover themes in the data. The study found four significant themes during the analysis phase. First, the participants took little satisfaction in the social presence in the discussion board due to a lack of social opportunities. However, the participants did enjoy instructor presence, thanks to quick, encouraging, and critical responses. In addition, the participants did not exhibit a sense of critical thinking and seemed to participate with mostly the minimum requirement. It is hoped this research will act as a foundation for additional exploration into the community of inquiry’s relationship with online learning by providing starting points for answers to the issue of online student engagement.