CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computing Technology in Education (DCTE)


College of Engineering and Computing


Gertrude Abramson

Committee Member

Martha Snyder

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell


Higher education, Pedagogy, Educational technology, online education, online pedagogy, online teaching, teaching strategies


In the context of continuing growth in online higher education in the United States, students are struggling to succeed, as evidenced by lower course outcomes and lower retention rates in online courses in comparison with face-to-face courses. The problem identified for investigation is how university instructors can ensure that effective teaching and learning is happening in their online courses. The research questions were:

  1. What are the best practices of effective online teaching in higher education according to current research?
  2. How do exemplary online instructors enact teaching presence in higher education?
  3. What are the best practices of effective online teaching in higher education?

The purpose of this descriptive case study was to understand and describe the teaching practices of exemplary online faculty, and “exemplary” was defined as recognized with a national award for effective online teaching form a non-profit organization within the last five years. A purposeful sampling strategy identified four exemplary online instructors, who taught in different disciplines at different institutions in the United States. Data collection included a pre-interview written reflection, a semi-structured telephone interview, examination of a course syllabus and other course materials, and observation of a course. Data analysis included repeated close reading and coding of all data collected and then reducing the codes to a manageable number of themes.

Two key themes emerged in the findings: human connection and organized structure. Exemplary online instructors seek to connect with students so students know and feel the care, support, and respect of the instructor. Exemplary online instructors also maintain a clearly structured environment that is logically organized, delivered in small chunks, and sufficiently repetitive to keep each student focused on the content.

These results contribute to the body of knowledge by allowing online faculty to learn from the best online faculty. First-time online faculty as well as online faculty who seek to improve their online pedagogy may be able to enhance teaching and learning in their courses, which in turn will hopefully yield higher student satisfaction and lower attrition in online education.