Maximizing Multicultural Online Learning Experiences with the Social Presence Model, Course Examples, and Specific Strategies

Maximizing Multicultural Online Learning Experiences with the Social Presence Model, Course Examples, and Specific Strategies

Aimee L. Whiteside (University of Tampa, USA) and Amy Garrett Dikkers (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-833-0.ch025
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This chapter presents Whiteside’s (2007) Social Presence Model, course examples, and specific strategies and explains how such factors help facilitators maximize interactions in multicultural, online learning environments. The model provides a framework rooted in socio-cultural learning, linguistic nuances, learning communities, prior experiences, and instructor investment. The chapter also illustrates how the Social Presence Model, coupled with examples from a Human Rights Education case study and research-based strategies, can make significant differences in online interactions.
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Importance Of Social Presence Online

The social dimensions of learning have long been discussed in the educational literature across time (Dewey, 1910, 1916; Bandura, 1973, 1977, 1986; Wenger, 1998). Educational theorist and practitioner Etienne Wenger (1998) notes, “We are social beings…this fact is a central aspect of learning” (p. 4). Likewise, social presence can contribute to learners’ construction of knowledge and help them engage more in their learning process.

Historically, the concept of social presence emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s where Mehrabian (1969) and Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) examined social presence from a social psychological perspective within the area of telecommunication. These researchers found social presence to be “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in mediated communication” (qtd. in Polhemus, Shih, & Swan, 2001, p. 5). Then as various interactive and other communication media evolved over time into options such as teleconferencing, interactive television, and online learning environments, a flurry of additional yet similar definitions for social presence emerged. These definitions helped to position social presence as the resulting phenomenon within a particular technological medium.

In contrast, contemporary researchers find that social presence has emerged as a concept much larger than any individual medium (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997; Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Tu, 2002; Whiteside, Hughes, & McLeod, 2005; Whiteside, 2007). These researchers see social presence as an affectively-charged connectedness that motivates participants to take an active role in their own and their peers’ construction of knowledge and meaning-making processes (Whiteside, 2007; Whiteside, Hughes, & McLeod, 2005). This category extends beyond isolated individual perceptions, behaviors, and attitudes in a cross-cultural communication medium. Thus, this category addresses trust, interaction, and group dynamics in emerging learning environments.

Today, contemporary social presence research has branched into a number of exciting, related directions including

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