Student and instructor perceptions of care in online graduate education: a mixed methods case study
The purpose of the study was to understand what language and strategies instructors and students perceived as conveying caring in online graduate education. Using Nodding’s (1984, 1988, 1995, 2001, 2002) care theory, questions were crafted for structured interviews and a survey. The study was conducted at a Midwestern, midsized university. Structured online interviews were conducted with the instructors, and an online survey was offered to students in the eight participating graduate instructors’ courses with 46/222 students responding. The researcher conducted a quantitative and qualitative analysis of all data, including a document review of the instructors’ course delivery shells, investigating language usage in Announcements, Discussion Boards, and Assignment Feedback in the Gradebook for triangulation of the data. The findings supported the three major constructs of Noddings’ care theory. The first construct was mental attentiveness in which students indicated the importance of the immediacy of feedback. The second construct was affective engagement, in which students expressed that feedback include specific comments and praise with caring language and concern for the students’ personal situations. The third construct was reciprocity, which students conveyed the importance of student-instructor interaction in the discussion board and also of video conferencing in order to promote reciprocal interaction. The findings of this study may lead to actions by instructors that could convey more caring and increase student engagement, satisfaction, and achievement, thereby assisting colleges and universities in their retention efforts. Most importantly, the findings may add to the existing literature of what a caring graduate instructor-student relationship encompasses in online education.