Miller, Rene Patricia (2009-05). Communities of practice: the utility of web-based communication tools in assisting new, adult, online learners' transition to formal distance education. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Institutions of higher education are harnessing the communication ability of the Internet to offer classes and academic degree programs. This study investigated adult students during their first semester in a distance delivered doctoral program. The purpose of the study was to examine the use of web-based communication tools and their ability to establish a community of practice enabling the new students to share solutions related to distance doctoral study. This case study included the entire cohort of a distance delivered Ed.D. in Agricultural Education administered jointly by Texas Tech and Texas A&M Universities. Data collection methods included a semi-structured telephone interview, containing an adapted Sense of Community Index and postings on a Wiki (editable web page). Data analysis produced a participants' profile and their use of web-based communication tools. This study found that (a) a variety of web-based tools enabled the students to connect with their cohort on a routine basis, (b) it is possible to establish a community of practice using a variety of web-based communication tools, (c) after one semester the cohort is an embryonic community of practice (d) the students were able to assist each other with concerns that helped them acclimate to learning online and their doctoral program, (e) students appreciate the flexibility that distance education offers but some prefer a traditional education, (f) students were frustrated with the technology during the first few weeks of their program, (g) new doctoral students desire instruction in the use of the course management system, the online library, and scholarly writing, (h) the students feel a strong sense of community, (i) use of web-based communication tools are vital as they assist in the student's learning, (j) students felt isolated from their cohort until they participated in a group project even though they had the use of web-based communication tools at their disposal. The results of this study suggest that opportunities for students to engage socially with their peers should be built into the design of online classes and degree programs. Future research is recommended to examine the sustainability and desirability of virtual communities of practice.

publication date

  • December 2007