Date of Graduation

12-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning (EdD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders

Advisor

Kit Kacirek

Committee Member

Kenda Grover

Second Committee Member

Courtney Plotts

Keywords

Community of Inquiry, LGBTQ+, self-disclosure, Social Identity Theory, social presence

Abstract

Social interaction among learners plays a significant role in online learning environments (Garrison, 2006; Kreijns et al., 2014; Mykota, 2017). The construct of social presence in online courses is important because it influences interaction and connectedness among learners and its effects on their learning outcomes and emotional well-being. Social presence at its essence refers to how an individual is perceived as a "real person" in an online environment (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997). Online students must decide what aspects of their social identities they share in their interactions with their peers and instructors. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ students must negotiate what aspects of their sexual orientations or gender identities they wish to self-disclose while taking online classes.

In the past, research has explored how LGBTQ+ individuals use social media and online resources to negotiate their online social identities. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have used online platforms to explore their identity, facilitate the coming out process, and as a means of social support with other members of the community and its allies. However, LGBTQ+ perspectives regarding online social presence and self-disclosure in online learning environments are unknown.

The purpose of this single qualitative case study was to explore LGBTQ+ college students' perceptions of social presence and its indicators, affective expression, open communication, and group cohesion in online courses related to their decisions surrounding self-disclosure. Data collection occurred through recorded participant interviews on Zoom. The interviews used semi-structured, open-ended questions created by the researcher. Interview recordings were transcribed and analyzed to uncover LGBTQ+ participants' perceptions of social presence and the factors that influenced their decisions related to self-disclosure. Their responses were coded and categorized using the Community of Inquiry (CoI) and social identity theory (SIT) as theoretical frameworks.

The study's findings showed that the lack of collaborative and interactive activities in online classes that promote social presence left participants uncertain about how they perceived their classmates and how they may have been perceived by them. Participants described their experiences in online classes as lacking a sense of belonging and authentic connection. Furthermore, participants were reluctant to share personal information in the initially limited exchanges with their classmates. Participants' decisions to self-disclose information related to their gender identity and sexual orientation were based on factors like privacy, perceived social and political climate, and openness in professional and personal lives. Participants suggested that creating safe online spaces may reduce barriers to self-disclosure through instructors identifying as allies, sharing pronouns, and displaying symbols associated with support of the LGBTQ+ community. Further research is warranted for LGBTQ+ students' perceptions of social presence in online classrooms where their identities have been affirmed through institutional and environmental support.

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