Graduate students may begin their studies with confidence in their ability to succeed, but many do not complete their programs. Stress is one of the most significant contributors to the lack of persistence and subsequent failure to complete. In second language acquisition theory and teaching practice, stress is often described within the context of the affective filter hypothesis, which refers to emotional factors, including anxiety and stress, that have been associated with academic success. While Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis was developed for second language acquisition, lowering students’ stress and their response when being engaged while under stress may be able to be applied to a variety of populations. Given that the faculty member is key to fostering persistence, they may be uniquely situated to help lower stress and thereby decrease the affective filter in the online classroom. The purpose of this multiple case study was to examine how faculty identify students experiencing high levels of stress in online graduate education. A second purpose was to identify strategies that graduate online faculty use to lower the affective filter for students. The setting for this qualitative, multiple case study was a school of education in a non-profit, online university with a focus on master and doctoral level education. Specifically related to online graduate learners, this study adds to the body of knowledge by suggesting that relationship building, institutional support, addressing diverse sources of stress, and considering strategies to support students’ interpersonal needs as mitigation efforts may be effective in supporting this population. Findings give stakeholders guidance in supporting faculty and providing resources for student persistence and ultimate completion.
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