Virtual Spaces: Employing a Synchronous Online Classroom to Facilitate Student Engagement in Online Learning


  • J. Lynn McBrien University of South Florida
  • Rui Cheng Nazareth College
  • Phyllis Jones University of South Florida



Distance learning, synchronous online learning, Transactional Distance Theory, virtual classroom


This research study is a collaborative project between faculty in social foundations, special education, and instructional technology in which we analyze student data from six undergraduate and graduate courses related to the use of a virtual classroom space. Transactional distance theory (Moore & Kearsley, 1996) operates as our theoretical framework as we explore the role of a virtual classroom in distance education and analyze the ways in which a synchronous learning environment affects students’ learning experiences. Elluminate Live! was the software employed in the virtual classroom. In this analysis, particular themes emerged related to dialogue, structure, and learner autonomy. In addition, students rated convenience, technical issues, and pedagogical preferences as important elements in their learning experiences. The article discusses these themes as a contribution to reducing the “distance” that students experience in online learning and to developing quality distance education experiences for students in higher education.

Author Biographies

J. Lynn McBrien, University of South Florida

J. Lynn McBrien is an assistant professor in Social Foundations of Education at the University of South Florida. In addition to action research in distance learning strategies, she conducts research with resettled refugee students and their families in the United States. Her contact information is

Rui Cheng, Nazareth College

Dr. Rui Cheng is the director of TESOL for International Educators at Narareth College. Her research interests include ESL studies and information technology.

Phyllis Jones, University of South Florida

Dr. Phyllis Jones is an associate professor in Special Education at the University of South Florida. She is especially interested in inclusion studies and distance learning.



How to Cite

McBrien, J. L., Cheng, R., & Jones, P. (2009). Virtual Spaces: Employing a Synchronous Online Classroom to Facilitate Student Engagement in Online Learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3).



Research Articles