Forming an Opinion but I still have more questions than answers


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


Things to do so little time

So far I have learned a great deal. I have been able to read so many documents of research about the community of learning, how to design and deliver online and how to support students online. This is a bit more from usual day job practice of assessment online. My limited experience has now been expanded and I am loving all of it. I can’t wait to try it out and put it into practice; but which to choose????

Yesterday, where I work, the move to using blended and online learning was discussed by the management-higher up-as it is a form of learning that our students want. I hope to be involved in that and I hope this course will help me pitch for it!!

Today I discovered some free tools for creating an introduction for example I have so much to try out!!

End of week 1

This is the end of the first week and the start of the next for our student led activity. I have been a little more involved this week with the process of deciding what we should or should not include from the findings from the first week.

From the rota we all spent a couple of hours each evening and at the weekend being available for comments etc. I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t much engagement from the participants during the week. I think though that I have to be realistic in that like me, we all work full time mostly, and only have the evenings and weekends to take part. Some are also on different time lines too. By Sunday night a couple more had engaged with the activities but in a telephone discussion with another peer we think that there will be a mad gallop at the end of week 2!!

We are also not a usual group, we are all academics and in teaching or training and as a whole we may have already said some things before. Finding new fresh ideas can sometimes be a challenge in itself. However, our debate and discussions in week 2 will allow for participants to “get on their soapbox” and hopefully feel secure in saying exactly what they think about social presence and creating communities of learning. Netiquette rules apply of course.

We have decided to tweak one of the discussions with this in mind as we want to have a broad discussion. Mainly because we are interested in others opinions on the factors influencing access, engagement and retention. We are all from different areas and we hope we have a bank of opinions and suggestions to draw on in this and later practice.

My task was to write the intro to week 2 which also serves as an announcement. We decided how to tweak the discussions and these were adjusted last night. We have also decided that we should all just drop in rather than wait for our rota time as there is an ongoing debate and we may each have our own responses! Also, should it dry up a bit we can start the ball rolling.

From the previous post about reflective practice I am already formulating ideas on my own practice particularly in the design of a course and how to be more flexible when you see the reality of engagement.

Just a thought – Reflective practice

“By inviting colleagues to watch what we do, or by engaging in critical conversations with them, we can notice aspects of our practice that are normally hidden from us. As they describe their readings of, and responses to, situations we face, we see our practice in a new light.”

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. California: Jossey-Bass.

I remembered this quote from when I was qualifying as a lecturer. I have always liked this quote from Brookfield. The essence is the same now as then but of course Brookfield was keeping it in context of the classroom. Distance learning was established but the internet and online learning wasn’t – which I don’t think Brookfield was thinking of in 1995. Observations are valuable and we can glean much from it provided of course it is delivered in an honest and constructive format. However, we are now open to scrutiny of peers we have never met, except online and I am interested to see if we are less or more open in our discourse when evaluating.


Yesterday our seminar was launched and I was feeling rather nervous. I have checked in today to see the engagement so far. Two have made an entry into the induction activities. I am rather pleased! I look forward to seeing more and I cant wait for my turn to moderate.

I have felt a bit out of the loop in this project but now I can see it in front of me I am feeling rather confident about it. I am impressed by my colleagues work and input into the project. I would have liked to have been more involved in the design and construction stage but I am happy to moderate and also do some other work such as the summary and an announcement. We all have a slot on the rota for moderating and as we all work fulltime this is being shared out over evenings and weekends.  I have a mix of both so it is manageable.

It is interesting to see the styles of Moodle pages being used. The one I have at work is rather dull in comparison and has given me a lot of room for thought. I am of course limited by my employers choices but I am sure I can do better Moodle pages!! As discussed before, the students in India are having fun creating pages too so before long I will have access to a library of styles and I can see which are more attractive and engaging. This is an added bonus for me!

Simpson(2012) describes one of the weaknesses in online education is the quality. This may be true but I can honestly say that I feel that the first student led seminar was very good and I expect ours to be just the same.

Simpson, O. (2012)Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education: Third Edition. Routledge.

Practicing what we have learnt

I was glad to be back home after India (as much as I loved it there is no place like home). However, I managed to catch a cold which put me in bed for a day or two. This just put me back on my masters course. I was already feeling out of the loop and this wasn’t helping. I spoke to my LDT who was very supportive and encouraging. I went onto the Moodle page and I had to familiarize myself with all the course materials etc. all over again. My laptop decided that everytime I logged on it would update something or other. Necessary but very frustrating with regards to time. Eventually I was able to submit some comments and some work but thankfully one of the group I am in left her mobile number so I could call for an update. As much as I appreciate and want to deliver online learning sometimes nothing beats face to face conversations or even real time conversations with a voice. Thanks to that call I really feel like I am involved even though the rest of the team had done all the work sourcing and setting up the Moodle page. At least now I can find a slot to contribute. It really made me think about how to build communities online as I was feeling isolated but now I don’t feel like that at all. Thanks guys for putting into practice what we have all learnt!!!

Hello again

Well here I am back in Scotland. It was an exciting experience delivering a digital literacy course to lecturers from the New Delhi University campus introducing them to blended and online learning. The campus was lovely and it was very hot. The candidates said it was unusual at this time of year to get 29 degrees but when you are used to 3 who’s complaining!!

Despite the electricity going off every five minutes and the infuriating instability of the internet and wi-fi the candidates were all enthused and this was passed around us all keeping us all buoyant.

I was able to show the Moodle pages for comparisons of good and not so good practice. There is a tendency for documents to be “shoved” on the Moodle page, where you end up with lots of words and a demotivated student. I also went through some of the functions so that they could start blogs with their students. For their own project they are using WordPress and this is very exciting as they are able at last to complete some reflective practice and have a showcase for their own continual professional development.

There were lots of small projects but as they were used to rote learning and teaching getting them in groups for interactive sessions was a new way for them. They also took some videos of each other and edited them overlaying their creations with music so that they have some basic skills to cut down existing materials or create their own film. There was lots of discussions in and out of the classrooms and IT rooms. The tea break became a café for exchange of ideas. They were very complimentary and thankful for the opportunity to learn all the techniques and skills for using as VLE such as Moodle and for creating flipped, blended and online learning.

I’ve attached the group photo. It is in the campus grounds. I am third from the left on the front row sat next to the campus director who wore her traditional dress.