Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Kathy A. Smart


Students' feelings of relatedness (i.e., feeling connected to others) are crucial for success in both asynchronous and synchronous learning environments; however, courses taught in these formats often limit relatedness development, either by removing spontaneous interaction (e.g., asynchronous delivery) or by introducing seemingly incompatible online and on-campus factions (e.g., synchronous delivery). As such, it was hypothesized that the strengths of one delivery mode could offset the weaknesses of the other. The purpose of this study was to implement and evaluate an online discussion board intervention designed to scaffold relatedness development. Deci and Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory (SDT) was adopted as the theoretical framework as it explicitly addresses the role of relatedness in achievement settings.

Participants were 83 graduate students enrolled in synchronous hybrid programs offered at a large midwestern research university. This study used a convergent parallel mixed methods approach (QUAN + qual = triangulation). The methods involved a pretest-posttest experimental design in which students were randomly assigned to either the experimental group (n = 41), wherein they participated in the intervention, or the control group (n = 42), wherein they attended classes without any auxiliary interactions. Data analysis involved a battery of statistical tests performed on quantitative survey data and a thematic synthesis of participants' responses to open-ended, qualitative survey items.

The results indicated that students who participated in the intervention improved their self-efficacy for developing relatedness with individuals in the online attendance mode. The intervention also mitigated previously observed differences in relatedness between online and on-campus students. The qualitative analysis generated three key themes (relatedness beliefs, program delivery, and student-interface interaction), which were summarized into one assertion: Relatedness development in synchronous hybrid courses requires a dynamic mix of nutriments that can be satisfied or thwarted differently for every student.

This study holds implications for practice in that the results suggest a viable path for improving students' educational experience in synchronous hybrid courses. The results also supported the tenability of SDT for future research in this area. Ideally, explicating the link between relatedness and success will help practitioners design relatedness-supportive interventions that may improve student performance in synchronous hybrid programs.