Fostering Social Presence on Virtual Learning Teams

Fostering Social Presence on Virtual Learning Teams

Jennifer Stone (Royal Roads University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5769-2.ch006
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Social presence is a key factor in student satisfaction and success in online courses and a marker for whether one has an online learning experience that is engaged, vibrant, and connected, or simply perfunctory. An action-oriented research project was conducted to determine how to foster social presence on the virtual learning teams in the Master of Arts programs in the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads University. The study findings show that in order to support the development of social presence, the commitment and participation of multiple stakeholders is required. The results of this study suggest a common organizational understanding of social presence, clear delineation of student and faculty roles and responsibilities in its development, intentional program design, and a learning management system that specifically lends to interpersonal relationship building must all be present in order to foster the development of social presence.
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Royal Roads University (RRU), located in Victoria, British Columbia, offers programs that are primarily delivered in a blended model which combines virtual learning with traditional classroom methods; over 70% of students participate in virtual teams at RRU and up to 50% of assignments may involve group projects or team-based work (see Sponsored by Student Services at RRU and conducted between November 2016 and March 2017, an action research project was designed to better understand social presence on virtual learning teams and how to foster its development.

This study shows the value and necessity of social presence at RRU, with 100% of faculty and staff survey respondents strongly agreeing or agreeing that a strong social presence is critical to the level of engagement of students in virtual courses, and 93% of students strongly agreeing or agreeing that a strong social presence is critical to their level of connection in virtual courses. The findings showed some variance in the thoughts and opinions as to what constitutes the core components of social presence, however eight common descriptors were mentioned by all three groups of respondents, which could be considered the beginnings of a working definition amongst the group. It was clear that both students and instructors have the responsibility to develop their own social presence, while instructors have the additional task of initiating and role modeling that presence in their teaching. Additionally, the analysis showed that instructors carry the responsibility of creating a rich learning environment with systems and processes in place to develop social presence; the qualitative data revealed this could be accomplished in part with intentional learning design and effective technological platforms and virtual learning spaces.

This chapter provides a review of the social presence literature that pertains to its history and definitions, the roles and responsibilities that instructors and students have in its development, and how intentional learning design and the use of technology and virtual spaces can support the development of social presence. This chapter also provides an outline of the research context, methods, and participants which framed the inquiry, and details the findings and conclusions that resulted from the data analysis. Finally, four recommendations for fostering social presence on virtual learning teams are offered.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Blended Learning: An education program that combines online learning components with traditional classroom methods.

Learning Management System: A software application designed for the delivery and management of online educational courses or programs.

Social Presence: One’s ability to signal their emotional, relational, and psychological presence in an online environment, and to access the reciprocal co-presence of others.

Virtual Learning Teams: Teams made up of small numbers of individuals with a common learning goal who communicate via computer-mediated technologies.

Instructional Design: The analysis, design, development, delivery, and evaluation of instructional materials.

Computer-Mediated Communication: Human communication that occurs via electronic technologies.

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