Unit 2: Building an effective learning community
Social presence: The degree to which participants in online...
Educational research has demonstrated that social presence is connected to perceived learning satisfaction and persistence in an online course (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Boston, Diaz, Gibson, Ice, Richardson & Swan, 2009; Garrison, Cleveland-Innes & Fung, 2010; Shea & Bidjerano, 2009).
In order to immediately establish a social presence for the online course the teacher can send out a welcome email message, audio or video clip to each of the students. This letter, audio or video clip can also be posted to an introductory discussion forum in the course learning management system (LMS) or virtual learning environment (VLE) where students can comment on your introduction and also introduce themselves. It is recommended that you create this welcome message in both text and multimedia format as some students may not have the computer and internet capabilities to successfully play audio and video clips.
learning management system (LMS)
A web-based system similar to a VLE that administers, documents, tracks, reports and delivers e-learning education courses or training programmes. Often used by universities, it enables students to use interactive features such as video conferencing and discussion boards. Examples include Moodle, Edmodo and Blackboard.
virtual learning environment (VLE)
A web-based system similar to an LMS. It is often used by universities to deliver educational content, providing tools, such as discussion boards, wikis and electronic submission, to support teaching and learning. Examples include Blackboard, Moodle and WebCT.
The following paragraphs will explain more about the different components of an introductory email, audio or video letter for an online course.
Akyol, Z. & Garrison, D. R. (2008) 'The development of a community of inquiry...
Tips for creating a welcome video: www.tlpd.ttu.edu/
Learning outcomes, key dates, your virtual office hours, your email response time (e.g. within 24 hours Monday to Friday).
Your teaching philosophy, the roles and responsibilities you envision for students on the course, institutional orientation to online learning.
Instructions on how to access the course LMS/VLE.
A 'virtual' orientation and practice session with the online course technologies. This session can be recorded or offered several times in order to accommodate different student schedules.
Required readings and materials for the course.
Another way to establish social presence in your online course is to conduct icebreaker activities during the first week.
A good way to establish social presence in your online course is to ask students to introduce themselves and take part in icebreaker activities during the first week. This helps to encourage participation from students who are used to listening to classroom discussions, or lurking in online discussions.
The following paragraphs will present some suggestions for different types of icebreaker activity.
Be sure to refer to your institutional context for online course registration...
Download the following resources for your Teaching Online portfolio...
Watch the following video in which a number of online teachers give some tips...
In the following interviews, a number of online teachers give some tips...
During the first week of the course, engage your students in an exercise where they each reflect back on an event that was a very powerful learning experience for them – it might or might not have been school related. This activity can be performed in an online discussion forum or in a synchronous online session.
For example, you could create a series of online discussion forums in the course LMS/VLE and then randomly assign five to six students to each forum. First, have the students share their learning experiences and discuss why they were powerful. Second, debrief as a whole class about what makes learning experiences powerful and co-create a set of guidelines for this course.
Ask students to take a digital learning survey such as the one you completed in Unit One of this course and to reflect on their individual results.
Individual written reflections can be submitted, posted to a discussion forum or shared in small groups, for example 'What specific learning strategies and study behaviours will help me succeed in this course?'
Invite a couple of students from a previous version of the course to join an online discussion to talk about the nature of the course as they experienced it. They can share study approaches they found helpful and generally give suggestions about how to take best advantage of the online learning environment to be successful in the course.
In the early stages of an online course, students need time to feel comfortable communicating in a primarily text-based environment and must adjust to expressing emotion and communicating openly without visual or other context cues. Teachers need to be sensitive and supportive in this regard; teacher posts set the tone for openness and comfort, in what and how they post (Cleveland-Innes & Garrison, 2009). Learning activities should be kept at a level that everyone can participate at, no matter what their past experience or level of expertise is.
Social presence: The degree to which participants in online environments feel affectively connected to one another.
Virtual learning environment (VLE): A web-based system similar to an LMS. It is often used by universities to deliver educational content, providing tools, such as discussion boards, wikis and electronic submission, to support teaching and learning. Examples include Blackboard, Moodle and WebCT.
Learning management system (LMS): A web-based system similar to a VLE that administers, documents, tracks, reports and delivers e-learning education courses or training programmes. Often used by universities, it enables students to use interactive features such as video conferencing and discussion boards. Examples include Moodle, Edmodo and Blackboard.
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', in Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 12(3): pp.3–22.
Boston, W., Diaz, S. R., Gibson, A., Ice, P., Richardson, J. & Swan, K. (2009) 'An exploration of the relationship between indicators of the community of inquiry framework and retention in online programs', in Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 13(3): pp.67–83.
Garrison, D.R. Cleveland-Innes, M. & Fung, T. (2010) 'Exploring causal relationships among cognitive, social and teaching presence: Student perceptions of the community of inquiry framework', in The Internet and Higher Education 13(1–2): pp.31–36.
Shea, P. & Bidjerano, T. (2009) 'Cognitive presence and online learner engagement: A cluster analysis of the community of inquiry framework', in Journal of Computing in Higher Education 21(3): pp.199–217.
Be sure to refer to your institutional context for online course registration and orientation.
Download the following resources for your Teaching Online portfolio (the dashes are meant to be bullet points!):
In the following interviews, a number of online teachers give some tips on how they establish an effective social presence with their students.
Professor Gráinne Conole
Professor of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester
I think it's absolutely critical, for a number of reasons. I think it aims to help motivate the students, get them engaged, get them to see the benefits of being online. Working online can be a very lonely experience. In fact, I was an Open University student of Spanish, I did two courses, and I'd recommend anyone in this area to do that and experience what it's like. And forums can be a real lifeline to provide both a connection with the tutor and peer support and peer learning. So it's absolutely vital to get that socialisation correct.
First is to establish the kind of level of expertise of the students, whether they've engaged in forums before or not. And if they haven't, help them sort of get up to that level. Make sure they're able to access the forum and use it appropriately, provide them with an etiquette in terms of what's appropriate and what isn't. And then it's about getting them to understand what the role of the forum is. So, what it'll provide them with, why it'll be beneficial, why they should engage, what it'll add to their learning.
Professor Steve Wheeler
Associate Professor of Learning Technology, Plymouth University
There are lots of different tools that you can use to do that. Lots of the social media tools are very good. I use wikis, I use blogs, I use video. Sometimes we will use a platform whereby you can show your slides and there's a live picture of you at the same time, and there's a text box where students can type in their questions to you or comments. That often, if used correctly, reduces the distance. With wikis, I tend to ask students to say a bit about themselves, create a space and load up a picture that represents them, say a bit about themselves, and then move their way through, gradually, deeper into the programme, talking to each other and sharing ideas, finding out what they've got in common, finding out what their common interests are, what their common ideas might be and how they differ from each other as well. That's always a good idea to actually engage students more deeply and to get them to reduce that social distance.
Dr. Jennifer C. Richardson
Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Purdue University
To establish social presence, there are a lot of strategies that are out there. A couple that I use, for example, are course announcements. It's very basic, but I make sure I check in once or twice a week so that students know that I'm there, I'm available and that I am involved in their course, because they can't see me. One of the things that I really like to incorporate is a discussion thread called 'ask the instructor', 'ask a peer'. Students like that. So that way, if there is a particularly burning question, they can get immediate feedback. So even if it's not from me the instructor, it could be from a peer and then I would also get back to them.
Professor Ormond Simpson
Visiting Fellow, Centre for Distance Education, University of London International Programmes (ULIP)
A very important one is empathy. The ability to understand; not so much the student's particular academic problems but their emotional ones. I've got a student at the moment who has just emailed me actually, to say that he is absolutely terrified about doing his next assignment, he just doesn't know where to start. Every time he picks it up his mind goes blank, and it's very difficult for me to understand. It's a very simple assignment, it's nothing that should terrify anyone, and yet I have to accept that his feelings are absolutely real, and at some point I've got to try and understand those and relate to those feelings in order that I can actually help him.
Dr. Jennifer C. Richardson: One incident that I thought was kind of entertaining was we had an instructor who was emailing her students weekly, giving them all the updates, and she had these grandiose emails, put a lot of time into them. Well, nobody ever responded to them. So she figured nobody was reading them. So she just stopped. Well, that doesn't, just because the students aren't responding doesn't mean they're not aware and they're not reading it. So, you know, keep those messages going to the students even if you're not hearing back from them.