Ensuring Presence in Online Learning Environments

Ensuring Presence in Online Learning Environments

Eunice Luyegu (Nova Southeastern University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9582-5.ch014
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Online learning in higher education has rapidly grown in recent years and has become the norm. However, pedagogical aspects on online learning environments are still developing. This chapter focuses on one foundational aspect of online and blended learning known as presence. First, the concept of presence in online learning is described i.e. teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence. Secondly, strategies for ensuring presence are discussed from different angles: course design, course instructors and course facilitators, and course participants. Thirdly, the implications for future research are outlined. This chapter enhances the research on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework a useful guide to the design of learning experiences that support learners' critical reflection and engagement within collaborative online learning environments.
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This chapter is based on the CoI framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000; Garrison & Vaughn, 2008). A literature review by Halverson et al. (2014) indicates that this model has been widely adapted and shows considerable promise in online learning. The CoI framework encompasses three core, interdependent elements: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence. At the core of this model is the socio-constructivist view of learning – “construction of meaning may result from individual critical reflection but ideas are generated and knowledge constructed through collaborative and confirmatory process of sustained dialogue with a critical community of learners” (Garrison & Archer, 2000, p.91).

The three main, overlapping elements of the CoI framework are social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence as depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Community of inquiry model ©2008, Wiley. Used with permission.


Social presence is associated with how students and instructors interact online. According to the CoI framework, social presence is the degree to which students in an online learning environment are free to express themselves in a risk-free way. Gunawardena and Zittle (1997) define social presence as “the degree to which a person is perceived as ‘real’ in mediated communication” (p. 8). Social presence is conceptualized by open communication, group cohesion, and affective/personal connections (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). Tu (2002) defines social presence as “a measure of the feeling of community that a learner experiences in an online environment” (p. 131). Social presence has been linked to students’ satisfaction and perceived learning (Picciano, 2002; Richardson & Swan, 2003; Swan & Shih, 2005).

Cognitive presence is the extent to which students are able to construct meaning through sustained communication. Cognitive presence is “grounded in the critical thinking literature and is operationalized by the practical inquiry model” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001, p.2). It is the element in the CoI that is the core to successful higher learning experiences (Kanuka & Harrison, 2004). There is evidence of positive significant relationship between a sense of community and cognitive learning (Rovai, 2002). The CoI framework has four phases of pragmatic inquiry: triggering, exploration, integration, and resolution.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Discourse: The use of words to exchange thoughts and ideas.

Teaching Presence: An instructor’s design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes.

Online Learning: Learning via the web, internet, or other distance technologies.

Blended Learning: A combination of different pedagogical theories in a face-to-face learning environment with or without technologically mediated interactions between students, teachers and learning resources.

Community Of Inquiry: A group of learners and instructors who share a technology-reliant environment, time-bound virtual space, course-dependent learning objectives, and rule-based interaction that results from the interaction of the perceptions of teaching, social, and cognitive presences.

Asynchronous Online Learning: A form of online learning where students access course materials and communicate with peers and instructor anytime per their convenience.

Social Presence: The degree to which participants in computer-mediated communication feel affectively connected to one another.

Synchronous Online Learning: A form of online learning where students access course materials and communicate with peers and instructors at specific and pre-ordained times and locations.

Instructional Design: A framework for organizing instructional content.

Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework: A model of online or blended learning that represents the learning experience as a result of the interaction of social, teaching, and cognitive presence.

Web Conferencing: A web-based service that allows people to meet in real time despite being in remote locations.

Cognitive Presence: The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained personal reflection and discourse.

Learning Environment: A virtual or non-physical learning space that provides access to curriculum content, assessments, and communication and collaboration tools.

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