Exploring Social Presence in the Culturally Diverse Online Classroom

Exploring Social Presence in the Culturally Diverse Online Classroom

Debra K. Smith (Ottawa University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3120-3.ch004
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This qualitative single-case study explored student perceptions associated with social presence in a graduate online course of culturally diverse learners. Findings included themes that align with Hofstede's (1984, 2011) cultural relationship domain indicating student preference for construction of schedules to create a cohort where students can stay together through future courses. Tu's (2000) online communication dimension was supported with findings of email and phone communication as the top two ways students prefer to interact with faculty. The feedback area of the LMS was a surprising third element in ratings and the number one ranking for documented weekly social interaction with the instructor. Specific challenges to social presence were language barriers, reported by all students in the class. Implications are presented for instructors, instructional designers, institution policy, course scheduling and faculty training initiatives.
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In the online classroom, social presence refers to the extent students and faculty are recognized as real to one another in a computer-mediated environment. The theory of social presence is a constant in both communication research and educational psychology in explaining the social context of telecommunications-based interactions (Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic, 2011). In the computer-mediated online classroom environment, computer-mediated communication (CMC) is often explored through the examination of differing computer media that contribute to the social climate of the online classroom, including asynchronous and/or synchronous interactions that occur through computer technology. According to Mathieson and Lefman (2014), social presence in the online classroom focuses primarily on the medium and perceptions of these communicative interactions and not necessarily on the sharing of academic content.

Research into social presence in the online classroom reveals that the communication technologies that facilitate the process of communication in distance education and training create social climates that are very different from the traditional classroom (Kelsey & St, 2008). Thus, successful CMC is realized for students through the interdependence of cognitive, behavioral and affective information (Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic, 2011). According to Akyol and Garrison (2008), the integration of social, cognitive and instructor factors increase a sense of community and social presence in the online classroom. The sentimental elements of social presence are comprised of emotions, humor, and self-disclosure while interactive components of social presence in an online environment consist of appreciation, acknowledgment, and return of communication (Garrison, Cleveland-Innieds and Fung, 2010). Instructor factors related to social presence include immediacy and presence of faculty participation and interactivity in the online course (Granda, 2015).

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