A. Wise, J. Chang, T. Duffy, R. Del Valle
Journal of Educational Computing Research, Vol. 31 (3) 247-271, 2004
The key finding of this study is an interesting one: it may be truly hard to state that social presence, especially teachers', in online learning environment is actually a causal variable in students' learning. In other words: while the teacher's presence is an important one for the learning to occur, it actually seems to be correlational to students' learning (connected in some fashion but not causing an increase or decrease in performance).
Teachers should strive to make their presence in online learning environments, and support positively all activities that occur online during the learning experience. However learning seems to occur or not, regardless of the great or poor job a teacher does online. A number of additional and complex factors affect the learning in very specific dynamics which are often hard to pinpoint and duplicate.
The article derives its conclusions and discussion from a specific study around social presence with elementary and secondary school students. While not specific to ESL environments, a number of observations and reflections, as usual, are important to consider as they either reiterate findings already reviewed in this blog through previous articles, or by making new interesting connections and considerations. Here we go!
- online learning environments have the potential to surpass the quality of traditional f2f settings (page 248)
- interaction can play a key role in facilitating learning, specifically through the creation of a sense (perception) of community and by promoting critical thinking skills
- the idea of community was brought about in the article, as the authors set to discover how the instructor (teacher) can be an agent of community building, from a social presence perspective
- the definition of social presence is given as : the perception that there is another real person taking part in the interaction (249)
- social presence can be viewed in term of media richness theory - the medium that allows for the most details of secondary communication (facial expression, tone of voice, gestures, etc.) would be considered the most effective to convey social presence. However, the medium in itself cannot determine social presence alone, but it derives its power from a combination of perceptions of intimacy (sense of closeness) and immediacy (psychological distance) (in this case of the instructor).
- social presence can be built by interacting with the medium rather than from the medium itself.
- higher social presence is thought to bring about higher levels of students' satisfaction and perceptions of the learning experience
Amongst the discussion points of the article emerge the following:
- students must have a sense of trust of the learning environment
- students' intentions of learning are usually strongly related to the learning outcomes achieved by them - learning intentions remain critical elements of the learning
- warm-up activities that usually create a general sense of community in f2f settings, appear to be meaningful and effective if directly related to the content of the online learning (in other words: setting up sharing of ideas, pictures, chatting in social online spaces, just for the sake it it may not be as effective as actually using these tools for activities that are pertinent to the content and the course)
- persistence - recurring presence of activities and feedback, provides the opportunity for learning but does not cause it - this is important as far as social presence goes. The fact that a teacher appears to be present in the online learning environment often and regularly does not guarantee higher learning achievements
The article does call upon the need for more structured frameworks that allow for understanding of complex dynamics that facilitate learning in online environments.