Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Leadership, Policy, and Lifelong Learning

Major Professor

Amber D. Dumford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Miller, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Michelle Bombaugh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William R. Black, Ph.D.


Instructional clarity, Instructional communication, Online learning, Phenomenology


This study was a phenomenological exploration of five undergraduate students’ experiences with clear and unclear instructors in online courses at a large southeastern research university. The specific aim was to privilege the voices of undergraduate students about their experiences communicating with their online instructors, particularly with regard to their instructors’ clarity (or lack thereof), and analyze the essence of their experiences using an interpretivist, and specifically, phenomenological perspective. The research was envisioned to address gaps in the instructional clarity literature as well as to respond to calls within both the online learning and the instructional communication literature to explore instructor communication concepts like clarity in the online setting and to study clarity from an interpretivist perspective with qualitative methods. Five undergraduate students participated in two loosely structured individual interviews and were subsequently engaged for follow-up questions and feedback in the later stages of the research process. The results of the study are presented in several forms: (1) Individual Portraits of Experience, which illuminate each participants’ experiences; (2) the phenomenological text presented in a traditional theme-by-theme format; and (3) a creative phenomenological interpretation of the essence of experiencing clear and unclear online instructors. The students in this study reported experiences that strongly align with extant instructional clarity research, provide insight into the relationship between instructor clarity and student outcomes, and offer opportunities for reflection in consideration of the extant literature on the nature of interaction between instructor and student in the online context.