Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Andrea L. Beach

Second Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Third Advisor

Dr. Sergio da Silva


Higher education, sense of community, classroom, instructional practices, pedagogy, hierarchical linear modeling


A positive sense of community (SoC) in the college classroom supports student learning and increases student engagement and motivation. While previous research has examined SoC, studies have typically investigated students’ perceptions. This quantitative cross-sectional study investigates both instructor and students’ perceptions of SoC in traditional undergraduate classrooms. Study participants include full-time instructors, and students from 36 undergraduate classes in three institutions located in a Midwestern state. Students completed Rovai’s (2002a) Classroom Community Scale; instructors completed a remodified Classroom Community Scale and the Postsecondary Instructional Practices Survey (Walter, Henderson, Beach, & Williams, 2016).

This study uses hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to analyze both student and class-level variables that explain variability of the three constructs of student SoC: Connectedness, Learning, and Total Classroom Community. At the student level, class level is a significant predictor of student SoC in all three constructs. More specifically, seniors experience less SoC than freshmen. Results from the final HLM models provide support that this study identified class-level variables responsible for the variation in student SoC between classes. The construct Connectedness accounts for 67% of variance in student perceptions of SoC between classes; Total Classroom Community resulted in 60% and Learning, 33%. Instructor gender was a significant predictor of students’ perceptions of connectedness. Students with female instructors had higher scores on the construct, Connectedness, than students with male instructors. Instructional practices also predict student SoC. Content Delivery, a predictor variable that includes instructor-centered practices, results in a significant negative relationship on all three SoC constructs indicating that when instructors use note-taking or lecture, student perceptions of connectedness, learning, and total sense of community decrease. Instructor perceptions of SoC significantly and positively impact student perceptions of SoC in all three constructs. When an instructor has a greater sense of total classroom community, students have a significantly greater sense of connectedness (effect size = .56) and total classroom community (effect size = .53). Interestingly, the results also show that when an instructor has a greater sense of connectedness (effect size = .42), students’ perceptions of learning increase.

The most practical application of this research is instructors adopting student-centered instructional practices in higher education classrooms in order to build SoC. Faculty developers can promote the importance of SoC among faculty by providing faculty development opportunities on student-centered instructional practices. Another practical application of this research includes administration. Administrators can utilize faculty who successfully build SoC in the classroom to mentor and lead others in effectively building SoC. Based on this research, educators and researchers must recognize SoC as an effective instructional factor in higher education classrooms that provides students with opportunities to interact with faculty and fellow classmates in a meaningful and academically challenging learning environment.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access