Tuesday, October 4, 2011

73_Collaborative Learning and Social Presence

Student perceptions of collaborative learning, social presence and satisfaction in a blended learning environment: relations and critical factors
So, H.J., Brush, T. A.
Computer and Education 51 (2008) 318-336

The key findings of this study connect and reiterate how positive collaborative learning perceptions are linked to positive perceptions of social presence and satisfaction, which are all critical element of successful online learning experiences.

In other words, students who are naturally and personally open to collaborative learning opportunities will make them happen, engage in the activities that bring these opportunities about and be more sensitive to perceiving social presence and higher satisfaction out of the learning, especially in online settings.

We have been writing for a while about the idea of social presence and perceptions, around the use of the tools, the sense of challenge that using the tools will bring about and the need to re-structure online learning environments in different ways than F2F ones. The dance between perceptions and personal disposition to the experience, and the ability to try things out, immerse oneself in the steps and still reflect on the facts, from a more distant position, is a really refined one to engage students in.

This study confirms, as previous research had already noticed, the importance of the psychological aspects of social presence and how these interact in different dynamics, in F2F settings, online and blended settings alike. It provides the basis for understanding concepts such as interactions in distance learning (p.319), and how these occur on a three-folded level: content/learner and instructor basis (this resonates with the community of inquiry model by Garrison and Anderson).

Additionally, the concept of transactional theory brings up the notion of small versus big transactional distance: the higher the amount of dialogue and the smaller the structure, the shorter the distance felt by a learner with their instructor. The concept aims at considering collaborative learning environments as places where the transactional distance is felt at its minimum. (p.319)

We also encounter the concept of social presence (intimacy and immediacy) and how different media impact on this in different ways.

The research indicates that factors to impact negatively the experience through distance courses by: unclear expectations (by instructor but also by the institution); tight timelines and expectations to complete work on impossible schedules; amount of work expected in course; poor interfaces of learning environments and lack of synchronous communication opportunities (321).

Highlights from this research indicate:

  • students with more online learning experiences tend to be more satisfied with online courses
  • use of authentic tasks positively impact the learning experience online
  • psychological distance and social interaction play an important role in online collaborative learning (329)
  • collaborative learning structures within the online learning environment usually increases the level of social presence and satisfaction with the course
  • including collaborative activities within online courses increases the discussion amongst students and the overall sense of satisfaction - however overdoing it will also have  negative effects

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