Is Anyone There? Being ‘Present' in Distance Education

Is Anyone There? Being ‘Present' in Distance Education

Andrea Reupert (Monash University, Australia) and Darryl Maybery (Monash University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-874-1.ch013
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Research on higher education distance education tends to focus on the technical aspects of distance teaching, with little focus on the personal components of teaching and learning. In this chapter, students are interviewed to identify whether they want a personal presence from their lecturers and if so, what this presence might look like in distance education. Conversely, lecturers are interviewed to determine what they personally bring of themselves when teaching in distance mode. Results indicate that many, but not all, distance students want their lecturers to be passionate about their subject, form relationships and be open and available. However, there were some students, albeit a minority, who wanted to focus solely on the subject. Other students were clear that even though they valued lecturers’ personal revelations, these needed to be directly related to subject materials. Similarly, distance lecturers suggest that while they do reveal aspects of their personality there are also boundaries as to how much they ‘give’ of themselves. A case study is presented that extends this discussion and provides one approach, through the use of technology, for taking the ‘distance’ out of distance teaching.
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There are several challenges when studying in distance mode, with some arguing that distance learning environments can be isolating, frustrating and boring, and lead to information overload and lower course completion (Hara & Kling, 2000; Northrup, 2002). Price, Richardson and Jelfs (2007) compared the experiences of on-campus students with students studying the same course by distance. Students reported that the face-to-face sessions were seen not only as an academic activity, but also as a highly valued pastoral activity. Similarly, Rowntree (2000, cited in Jones, Kolloff & Kolloff, 2008) found that students taking an online course reported feeling alone and somewhat disconnected from class. Finally, some have argued that distance teaching environments do not have the same capacity, when compared to face-to-face teaching, to transmit the lecturer’s presence in an immediate and effective way (Mahoney, 2006).

Lecturer ‘presence’ is a concept often found in the higher education literature and is defined as the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison & Archer, 2001). This definition is based on an earlier framework which described lecturer presence in three interrelated ways (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). The first, ‘cognitive presence’, involves being a designer of the educational experience, via the curriculum, establishing time parameters, administering instruction and student evaluation. Second, by using a variety of technological tools, lecturers need to facilitate a social environment through identifying areas of student agreement and disagreement, forming a consensus amongst student members, acknowledging and reinforcing student contributions and encouraging students to participate (Anderson, et al., 2001). Known as ‘social presence’ the lecturer’s role here is to create and maintain a social environment that is conducive to learning and is ‘in situ design of instructional activity’ rather than social interactions per se (Anderson, et al., 2001). Finally, ‘teaching presence’ focuses on direct instruction and involves the lecturer framing questions, focusing the discussion on specific issues, summarizing discussion, diagnosing misperceptions, confirming understanding, injecting knowledge from diverse sources and responding to technical concerns (Anderson et al., 2001).

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