Murray State Theses and Dissertations


This dissertation examined virtual learning and the link between sense of belonging and mental health. Specifically, this qualitative study assessed the perceptions and opinions of 15 high school students from a rural high school setting who participated in virtual learning for at least one semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research questions that guided this study were: (a) How did high school students experience belongingness with teachers and peers when engaged in virtual learning; and (b) How did high school students experience mental health issues during virtual learning? The data was collected via individual interviews and analyzed. The category emerging from the responses for question one was Reciprocal Relationships/Collective Acceptance. The two codes determined for this question were Acceptance of Others and Being Accepted by Others. The subcodes emerging were (a) shared interest with friends, (b) emotional connection with friends, (c) emotional connection with teachers/school personnel, (d) being valued/cared for by friends and family, and (e) being valued/cared for by teachers/school personnel. The category emerging for research question two was Spectrum of Covid Consequences. The codes emerging from this category were Novel Changes and Costs. The subcodes were (a) autonomous learning, (b) social media, (c), new perspectives on mental health, (d) isolation, (e) hindered social connections, (f) falling behind academically, and (g) depression/anxiety. P20 implications for teachers, administrators, and teacher preparation programs, as well as directions for future research are discussed in detail.

Year manuscript completed


Year degree awarded


Author's Keywords

virtual learning, attachment, sense of belonging, mental health, connections, active participation, non-participation

Dissertation Committee Chair

Samir Patel

Committee Member

Rebecca Pender Baum

Committee Member

Cindy Kerns

Document Type