What is social presence, and why does it matter?
There is a growing body of literature which demonstrates that it is much more common for online or distance students to suffer from feelings of isolation during their study, and this isolation contributes to disengagement (see, for example, Delahunty et al. 2014). As we discussed yesterday, these social/affective dimensions of the learning experience are the key aspects to fostering engagement among students. One key way you can address student engagement is by consciously working to create a sense of social presence. Savvidou (2013) defines social presence as projecting one’s self and establishing purposeful relationships to facilitate communication and group cohesion, and that this is even more necessary in online spaces as they can often seem to be “lacking” compared to face-to-face. Related to this is the concept of teacher presence, which relates to how visible and active the teachers are in the online environment. Recent evidence from here at the ANU has demonstrated that active and consistent moderation from teaching staff, and activities designed to promote engagement between students in a course, can improve course outcomes and lead to positive online learning experiences (Kizimchuk et al., 2016 – Full disclosure: I am an author on this paper!)
To get us started, watch this video below from the Learning to Teach Online series from UNSW on teacher presence and engaging students.
Let’s look at an example of how this might work. I’ve created a short video of myself to bring a bit of teacher and social presence into our coffee course! Take a look and let me know how you feel it impacts the feelings of community and engagement with both me (as the facilitator) and with your colleagues in the course.
Your activity for this week
Recall the advice given by the academics and students in the “Learning to Teach Online” video above. How can you apply these to your own teaching? Think through either the “Setting Expectations” or “Creating Spaces for Engagement” sections below, and share in the comments how you have been doing these things in your courses, or how you might like to do them in the future based on our discussions so far. I invite you to share your responses via video or another method of your choosing, and text replies are always welcome.
Activity 1: Setting expectations
The key aspect to creating engagement is by modelling what you’d like participation in the course to be like. Without the active presence and engagement from the teaching team, students may feel that there is “no point” in participating themselves. What is your communication plan?
Take a moment to reflect on how you do the following things in an online context:
- Breaking the ice, or doing introductions
- Keeping students updated
- Facilitating discussions
- Setting up class expectations and rules
How have you done these things in your face-to-face classes? How about the online spaces?
Activity 2: Creating space for engagement
Like all of us, students are busy and have many things competing for their time. Why should they participate in your course? How can you encourage them?
Here are some suggestions to reflect on:
- Are there spaces for students to test their knowledge or chat without affecting their grades?
- Is participation compulsory or voluntary? Is it graded? How is it graded?
- Is just posting once all that’s required to “get the grade” or do they need to reply or comment on other posts as well?
- Are students required to interact with each other or just the teachers?
- How much and when do the teaching staff participate in the forums? In what ways?
Of course, there is no one way to effectively “engage” students that will work for everyone – it depends on the context of your course, the discipline, your time, how the course is structured, and many other factors. What do you think would work best for you?
I look forward to reading your responses and thoughts!
- Delahunty, J., Verenikina, I., & Jones, P. (2014) Socio-emotional connections: identity, belongong and learning in online interactions. A literature review. Technology, Pedagogy and Education. 23(2):243-265. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1475939X.2013.813405
- Kizimchuk, S., Freund, K.,Prescott, M., McLaughlin, C. & Mewburn, I. (2016). Collective effervescence: Designing MOOCs for emotion and community. In S. Barker, S. Dawson, A. Pardo, & C. Colvin (Eds.), Show Me The Learning. Proceedings ASCILITE 2016 Adelaide (pp. 348-353). Available: http://2016conference.ascilite.org/wp-content/uploads/ASCILITE-2016-full-proceedings-Updated-1512.pdf
- Savvidou, C. (2013) ‘Thanks for sharing your story’: the role of the teacher in facilitating social presence in online discussion. Technology, Pedagogy and Education. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1475939X.2013.787267. 22(2):193-211.