Publication Date

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)




Emily Slusser


21st century skills, academic discourse, communication, English language arts, interaction, online learning

Subject Areas

Educational technology; Communication; Language arts


Participation in academic discussions and peer collaboration activities is instrumental to student engagement, motivation, and mastery of course content. These activities also improve 21st century skills, such as listening, managing diverse viewpoints, and communicating effectively. Although online learning options in the United States have dramatically increased in the past decade, there is limited evidence that online high school courses offer sufficient opportunities for students to communicate and collaborate with teachers and peers. The purpose of this mixed-methods study seeks to find out if, how, and why students interact with others in online courses. Findings from observations of five high school students engaging in online coursework indicate that they rarely, if ever, engage in peer collaboration and academic discourse activities. Teacher perspectives (n = 49), shared through an online questionnaire, show that academic discourse activities are considered valuable and feasible, but there are numerous challenges to successful implementation in online learning environments (such as scheduling and timing issues). Taken together, findings reveal a troubling contradiction: Whereas many online educators report facilitating activities promoting meaningful communicative exchanges, direct observation shows that students seldom encounter such opportunities, and when they are offered, students often choose to opt out. Further exploration sheds light on several constraints as well as possible affordances for providing interactive activities in online learning environments.