Despite the continued growth of K-12 online learning, there remains a need for additional research addressing roles of online facilitators and how they can improve the sense of community at K-12 online schools. The first article of this dissertation presents a case study illustrating how online facilitators can provide the same level of support for their students that on-site facilitators provide students in blended environments. Data was gathered from teachers at Mountain Heights Academy (MHA), a fully online high school. MHA implemented a "Shepherding Program" to provide student with online facilitators. Each teacher, or shepherd, was responsible for 20 to 25 students. Teacher focus groups and one-on-one interviews were used to examine the perceived effects of a shepherding program on shepherd-student relationships. Additionally, the teacher roles in the shepherding program were compared to the roles of on-site facilitators. Teachers were largely satisfied with the perceived impact of the shepherding program on their relationships with their students. Findings also highlighted strong similarities between the support the shepherding program provided online students and the support on-site facilitators provide blended learning students. The second article was a continuation of the case study from the first article. A key addition to the case study for the second article was the inclusion of student interviews. This article examined how teachers and students perceived that the shepherding program influenced instructor-student relationships. The analysis exposing similarities and differences between teacher and student perspectives of the shepherding program was conducted based on the four dimensions of Rovai's online sense of community: spirit, trust, interaction, and learning. Findings illustrated shepherd-student relationships consisting of all four elements of community in some degree.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





K-12 online learning, facilitator, sense of community, teachers