Dissertations and Theses @ UNI

Award Winner

Recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award - First Place.

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Open Access Dissertation


Distance education; Middle school education;


In the past 20 years distance education has evolved rapidly. The accessibility to online learning or virtual schools has become a viable option for many students. Virtual schools offer students instructional flexibility regarding time, place, and pace.

Improvements in distance education fostered rapid growth of online learning. The number of online learners grew nearly ten-fold from 2001 to 2015 (Clark, 2001; Watson et al., 2015). However, Watson (2016) estimated only 10% of online learners represented full-time virtual school students. Although face-to-face instruction is preferred by most K-12 learners, some learners argued their needs were best met by virtual schools (Green, 2013; Kenyon, 2007; Nehr, 2009; Pleau, 2012; Rice, 2006).

Little is known about the lived experiences of public virtual school students. The obscure nature of virtual schools may be related to the private home-based settings and having significantly fewer enrollments compared to supplemental online programs and traditional schools.

The purpose of this study was to explore the personal meanings and motivational aspects of being an adolescent middle school student in a particular virtual school. Two phenomenological methods were administered. First, the Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology (Giorgi, 2009) revealed 10 commons essences of being a virtual student in a particular virtual school. Three descriptive themes related to (1) the mutual needs of family members, (2) teacher-directed learning with parental assistance, and (3) selective socialization. The descriptive study led to personal meanings expressed in psychological terms. Secondly, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (Smith et al., 2012) was administered to interpret satisfactions and dissatisfactions of the five adolescent virtual student participants. A single theme emerged from the interpretive study relating to student freedoms, guided choices and a sense of self-control. Self determination theory was applied to 10 randomly selected experiences to provide further insight into the motivation of each participant. The support for autonomy, competence, and relatedness was identified along with the students’ levels of self-regulation.

The detailed and rich descriptions of lived experiences and self-regulation capabilities were expected to improve the readers understanding of virtual school preference for a small number of adolescent students and their parents.

Year of Submission


Year of Award

2019 Award

Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations

First Advisor

Radhi Al-Mabuk, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (xii, 464 pages)



File Format