Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Secondary Education

Major Professor

J. Howard Johnston, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James A. Duplass, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Yiping Lou, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen Thornton, Ph.D.


Civics, Discourse Analysis, Distance Education, Instructional Technology, Social Studies


Twenty-first century high school students' learning experience in an online setting is no longer limited by a time-constrained schedule, lack of resources, teachers' formalities, and restrictions affecting learning progressions. The list of benefits to the virtual learning experience is vast, however, there are substantial pitfalls and ambiguities that must be resolved. One of the pitfalls for social studies educators is their ability to properly measure whether or not students are gaining prudent civic competences, skills, and dispositions. The mission of social studies education is the acquisition of civic knowledge, but more importantly, the overall development of a lifelong caring, active, and educated citizenry. Yet, online high school social studies instructors are faced with a quandary when attempting to find optimal and indirect techniques toward achieving this end.

Through a review of literature, fostering effective discussions in online courses allows students to indirectly learn and practice democratic processes authentically. This current qualitative research study is a discourse analysis that attempts to understand how students' civic identities are constructed and presented through structured, weekly asynchronous discussion forums in five online high school social studies courses in Florida. The examination of students' language-in-use in relation to civic identity construction and/or exhibition is a crucial element for virtual social studies instructors to consider when attempting to understand how young people are civically (and politically) connected to their communities in a digital age; in present times and in the future.

This study's four major findings were: (1) students revealed utilitarian and social justice elements within their civic identities; (2) students' showed an eagerness to question and analyze society and the government; (3) the data revealed concrete instances of civic identity exhibition along with civic engagement testimonies; and (4) the interactions that transpired within the discussion forums were a vehicle for civic identity development. The majority of these students did not display an achieved civic identity status due to their lack of an advanced historical and political knowledge base; however, knowledge and skills only comprise a portion of one's civic identity. In addition, results showed that students need to engage in more self-reflection or self-discovery activities, more opportunities to experience an authentic connection with their community through activities like service-learning projects, and more time spent on developing sound 21st century democratic skills.

Attention to civic identity construction and enactment as a goal of virtual high school social studies instruction could be a promising target so educators can understand how students see themselves as important members of their communities. Thus, a high school virtual social studies curriculum and course must be empowering; focused on students' self-development while maintaining a rigorous, meaningful, open, and flexible design. Virtual social studies teachers should use numerous pedagogical strategies to empower students to discover and achieve their talents and purposes in life as a tool for accomplishing democratic goals and commitments necessary for our nation's advancement.