Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Curriculum and Instruction PhD

First Advisor

Larry D. Burton

Second Advisor

Randy Siebold

Third Advisor

Richard Williams


Problem. Current literature discusses differences among populations as they relate to face-to-face learning communities. However, no literature exists to determine if these same differences exist in an on-line learning environment. Since community has been closely linked to social and academic integration and success, additional research on whether populations with certain demographics feel the same absence of a sense of community in an on-line environment must be addressed. This study examines differences in psychological sense of community among students based on ethnicity, age, and sex.

Method. A revised Sense of Community Index was administered to students enrolled in at least one on-line course at three large universities. Demographic information, including ethnicity, age, and sex, was also collected. Matched-pair t-tests were used to determine differences in psychological sense of community (PSOC) between students’ face-to-face and on-line courses. Logistic and multiple regressions were used to analyze differences in PSOC based on ethnicity, age, and sex. One thousand five hundred and nine students completed the survey.

Results. Nine of the 12 individual items on the Sense of Community Index (SCI) revealed a significant difference between on-line and face-to-face classes, with students indicating more agreement for face-to-face classes than on-line classes. There was significant difference in three of the four components (membership, influence, and shared emotional connection), again with students indicating more agreement with issues related to community in face-to-face classes. There were no significant differences between the two modes of taking classes in regard to integration and fulfillment of needs.

Finally, overall psychological sense of community in face-to-face classes was significantly higher than PSOC for on-line classes.

The differences among student populations were mixed. Older students appear to have the strongest sense o f community in on-line classes. Although their total PSOC was lower than their younger classmates in face-to-face classes, it was higher in on-line classes. There was no difference in overall PSOC between Whites and minorities.

Finally, females tended to report a higher PSOC than males in both face-to-face and on­ line classes.

Conclusions. While there appear to be some differences among populations with regard to psychological sense of community in their on-line courses, it is not evident why these differences occur. Overall, students enrolled in on-line courses have a much lower sense of community than students in face-to-face courses.

Subject Area

Distance education--United States--Computer-assisted instruction