Building Social Presence through Engaging Online Instructional Strategies

Building Social Presence through Engaging Online Instructional Strategies

Sara K. Mitchell (Walden University, USA) and MaryFriend Shepard (Walden University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6461-6.ch007
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Abstract

Social presence in the online learning environment is best developed when the instructor is the facilitator of knowledge and the students are the seekers of knowledge. Strategies for consciously developing social presence among learners are provided. This chapter includes the Online Steps to Complex Cognition, an educational model that displays five successive stages of the online learning process and how social presence can be heightened at each stage. Positive levels of social presence allow students to engage in critical discourse and promote learning as they intellectually and socially engage and build a level of mutual trust and respect with their teachers and with other learners.
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Social Presence

Social presence is a collection of practices and actions with a common feature: they all enhance a sense of community or feeling of belonging in the online environment. Online discussions are the heart of the online learning environment and the main cultivators of social presence. For productive, thought provoking discussions to occur the students must have a sense of belonging, trustworthiness, and positive feeling toward the group. Understanding how to enhance social presence is important because there is a common thread among online learning research that indicates that when social presence is heightened students’ cognitive levels increase (Shea et al., 2010).

The interaction in online classrooms is different from the face-to-face classroom. In the online space, there is a physical distance between participants; and the lack of face-to-face interaction may create a feeling of isolation (Bender, 2003). The online classroom is also void of specific behaviors that increase a sense of belonging in a traditional face-to-face classroom: close physical proximity, eye contact, physical gestures, and tone of voice (Whipp & Lorentz, 2009). Generating a sense of belonging can be achieved in the online environment if online instructors overtly assist with its development. This can be done through a variety of communication methods such as increasing the amount of encouragement during discussion, using personal examples, providing productive feedback, and using students’ first names in communications.

The online discussions differ in positive ways from face-to-face discussions because every student is required to participate and be actively engaged. In the discussions, each student should reflect, question, and engage others in critical inquiry. Promoting, modeling, and sustaining systematic discourse as students connect, communicate, and collaborate with each other digitally requires an instructor to have a special skill set. As online instructors build engaging online communities they break down the barriers of learning at a distance and maximize the sense of community.

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