Building the Personal: Instructors’ Perspectives of Rapport in Online and Face-to-face Classes

Meredith S.H. Aquila

Major Professor: Jan Arminio, PhD, Higher Education Program

Committee Members: Timothy Gibson, Amy Swan

Enterprise Hall, #318
October 20, 2017, 12:00 PM to 03:00 PM


This dissertation explores the ways that instructors at a community college perceive instructor-student rapport in online and face-to-face classes. While instructor-student rapport has been shown to play an important role in student retention and success (Benson, Cohen, & Buskist, 2005; Granitz, Koernig, & Harich, 2009; Murphy & Rodriguez-Manzanares, 2012), it has only recently been examined in the context of online education, and generally only from the student’s perspective and not from the point of view of faculty. This study utilized grounded theory methods to create a theory of online instructor rapport building to improve best practices in both online and face-to-face classrooms. Interviews with 22 instructors at a large community college indicated that online rapport-building is often more time-consuming and difficult than face-to-face rapport-building, with autonomy, media richness, and uncertainty reduction, all playing a role in establishing rapport between instructors and their students. Using the collected data, I built on Joseph Walther’s Social Information Processing Theory (SIPT) by placing it in the context of higher education, and created a Theory of Instructor-Student Rapport Online (TISRO) to explain what makes rapport feel strong, weak, or non-existent, from the perspective of instructors.

Keywords: online education, rapport, rapport-building, Social Information Processing Theory, media richness, uncertainty reduction

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