Date of Award

Summer 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Joyce Neff

Committee Member

Rochelle Rodrigo

Committee Member

Brian J. McNely


Part-time and distance-learning students can experience a sense of isolation from their peers and the university. Concern about this isolation and resulting student attrition has increased in the midst of explosive growth in online course enrollments. One possible solution: building a stronger sense of community within the online graduate classroom using microblogging technology such as Twitter. Unfortunately, scholars across disciplines define community in different ways with some rejecting the concept altogether in favor of other theoretical constructs. And, few scholars have examined the notion of online classroom community from an English Studies perspective exploring the rhetorical exigencies that underpin this concept. Scholars often write about online community in aspirational terms and fail to demonstrate its existence empirically (Kling and Courtright, 2003).

Through the application of two existing pedagogical theories (Rovai's (2002) concept of classroom community and the well-established Community of Inquiry framework) this dissertation empirically documents the existence of online classroom community in two cases studies of graduate distance-learning summer sessions. This mixed-methods research study then demonstrates that microblogging technology is capable of both supporting and facilitating the growth of that sense of online classroom community. Because it stands at the convergence of a student's academic and personal interests, social media software such as Twitter—whether used as a front- or backchannel to the course—is uniquely positioned to serve both as a virtual third place and as a venue for exercising Brooke's (1999) writing underlife activities and extending Mueller's (2009) notions of where and how these activities can be played out in a digital context. Finally, this dissertation also offers a five-part alternative definition of online classroom community that strongly links the digital space itself with the affective/emotional concerns addressed in some other theoretical constructions of community.