Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ben Rafoth, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Gloria Park, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Emily Heady, Ph.D.


In this multiple-case study, the author investigated fully online students’ perceptions of and experiences with asynchronous and synchronous writing support options of an institutional writing center and a commercial tutoring service. This dissertation used a multiple-case study design (Merriam, 1998, 2009; Yin, 2009) to ascertain which features of these writing assistance options fully online students perceive as the most and least helpful for improving their writing skills and why. Data sources included a survey of 550 fully online students and two rounds of email interviews with 13 of the survey respondents. Survey and interview questions were structured within a conceptual framework of online writing center design, categorized by features affecting levels of convenience, connectedness, and academic progress. Survey and interview data analysis included within-case analysis (Merriam, 2009) and cross-case syntheses (Yin, 2009). Chapter Four presents the survey results that most closely aligned with the research questions and conceptual framework. Chapter Five shares the individual case profiles of 13 participants’ experiences with their selected writing assistance. Chapter Six displays the results of four cross-case syntheses, creating a holistic picture of the four services from participants’ perceptions of their convenience, connectedness and contribution to academic progress.

Findings from this study contributed to the body of online writing center (OWC) design literature by adding the voices of fully online students as increasingly relevant stakeholders whose preferences challenge the prevailing models of OWCs for onsite students. Findings also confirmed the effectiveness of prevailing online writing instruction (OWI) theories and practices. Results indicated that fully online students tend to prioritize convenience over academic progress and consider connectedness a relatively low priority when seeking writing assistance. Results also showed that most fully online students prefer asynchronous writing assistance to synchronous and perceive growth in writing skills when tutoring is more authoritative and explicit. Results also confirmed that providing both asynchronous and synchronous options is the best way to ensure the diverse writing assistance needs are met for as many fully online students as possible. These results and others have significant implications for those designing or re-designing OWCs for fully online students.

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