Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education

Academic Discipline

Higher Education Leadership

First Advisor

Diane Salmon

Second Advisor

Nathaniel Cradit

Third Advisor

Sophie Degener



High-quality and effective online education is essential to the continuous growth of higher education. As online higher education grows in professional programs, it is especially pertinent to investigate learning designs for their effectiveness in supporting the acquisition of professional skills. Drawing upon the Community of Inquiry (CoI) and the Practice-Based Teaching (PBT) frameworks, this research investigated the effectiveness of one online graduate program designed for practicing teachers to learn new skills (i.e., diagnostic assessment and differentiated instruction) in teaching reading to elementary students. The learning design introduced a new component of virtual presence (i.e., synchronous communication) at strategic points in the online learning process during a three-course clinical sequence in which the teacher participants engaged in field learning experiences. The study used a case study approach to investigate teacher participants’ perceptions of the factors that enabled their online learning during the clinical course sequence. Findings indicated that the teacher participants perceived their online learning environment to be generally high in the CoI factor. They also appreciated that the learning environment incorporated opportunities for authentic, hands-on and practice-centered learning through the use of multiple representations of artifacts, encouraged engagement and clearly identified critical features that can be practiced and applied, with the opportunity to enact these practices learned while in the field. Teacher participants further indicated the critical importance of synchronous communication (virtual presence) component in supporting their learning of the teaching practices in field settings. Implications of these findings are discussed for the expansion of online higher education and applications to other professional learning environments.

keywords: online, virtual presence, practice based learning, community of inquiry



To my extraordinarily supportive family- my husband Nathan, my girls Isabella and Gabrielle and my sons Colin and Cameron: thank you for your continuous support and unconditional love. My doctoral journey would not have been possible without all of you in my life. To my parents, Mary and Bill, thank you for believing in me and knowing I could do it even when I was ready to give up. There were many ups and downs during this time and would not have been able to accomplish my goal without all of you and I am truly blessed for your assistance and reassurance that I was on the right path and encouraging me to always persevere.

A special thank you to my committee, Sophie Degener, Ryan McCarty, and Nathaniel Cradit and especially my committee chair, Diane Salmon. Your experience and dedication to help me convey the importance of my passion, online learning, was truly inspiring. I could not have completed my dissertation without your guidance and continuous support.

Lastly, another special thank you to my colleague, Dr. Mary Hoch. Your educational insight and continual support were truly motivating, and much appreciated. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to mentor me throughout my journey, I will be forever grateful for your encouragement.