Forming an Opinion but I still have more questions than answers

opinion2

This week we have had a debate on our Moodle course around whether or not social presence has a bearing on the learning experience. This is not the same as achieving the learning outcomes. We are two thirds of the way through and I think I have more questions now than when I started.

The learning experience, in my view, encompasses not just the course material and the pass mark at the end, but discussions, debates, points of view-learning through osmosis. In the classroom you can hear other points of view and have facial cues, body language and emotion. This is not so easily transposed in online learning. Blended learning is a bridge between the two.

I think social presence does have a bearing on the learning experience, especially online,  however I would also think that some variants in research isn’t covered such as cultural or gender differences. In Stodel et al (2006) they were looking at what was missing from online courses using the COI framework which also included cognitive and teaching presence.

It was a very small study, conducted because the students had indicated that they missed face to face interaction and the research tried to find out what about F2F they missed-after all it was an online course and the students knew what they were signing up for.  Stodel et al discussed that the “students wanted what the technology gives, but does not want the limits.”  All the learners felt a degree of social presence but the style in which they could project themselves, their identity, was limited. One used poetry as her style of commentary to stand out.

The inquiry concluded that learners can be successful in online courses in terms of learning outcomes yet long for a richer experience. Developing and maintaining community was considered a critical skill as is the need for learners to shift focus from individuality to community.

This did not answer all my questions though. It wasn’t particularly conclusive in that online social presence is important. I do think it does depend on the individual too. Some may choose online courses thinking that they don’t have to interact with others; other than the lecturer. Some may live in isolated areas and choose online learning because of their location and long for the social interaction of other learners.

I would agree with John Naisbett (1999) who argues that while technology gives us advantages, it also takes away the “human-ness” of our lives, so that we yearn for social interaction and presence. One of his examples is that students on an online course, if they are in local areas, will find ways to meet each other face-to-face. I personally have asked to meet up other learners when I discovered that those who live in my home or work area would also like to have a face to face meeting.

I was interested to read a comment that looked at the work of Akyol & Garrison (2008). In their conclusion they state that “Cognitive presence and teaching presence were important factors in influencing student learning and satisfaction.  It later went on to discuss social presence had no impact on learning but was associated with satisfaction. The report found it interesting that participation was high in the first two weeks whilst they were trying to get to know each other and cohesion occurred when they were using discussion forums. Teaching and social presence changed over time whilst cognitive presence remained steady.

Online learning is a multidimensional construct and from all the papers I have read so far I concluded that neither of the three presences can be ignored, discounted or reduced without making an impact.

Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(2–3), 3–22.

Naisbett, J., Naisbett, N, & Philips, D. (1999) High Tech, High Touch, Technology and Our Search for Meaning

Stodel, E.J. Thompson, T. L., MacDonald C. J. (2006) Learners’ Perspectives on What is Missing from Online Learning: Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Volume 7. No. 3

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