Planning, Designing, Implementing, and Managing Social Presence in Online Programs and Online Classes

Planning, Designing, Implementing, and Managing Social Presence in Online Programs and Online Classes

Kartikeya Patel (Sofia University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6461-6.ch016
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Abstract

Social Presence plays important role in student learning, student retention, degree completion, and overall student satisfaction with the academic program. This chapter discusses the nature of social presence, the epistemological and psychological framework of social presence, contemporary social presence models, and planning, design, implementation, and management of social presence at the program and course levels. The planning and implementation of social presence at the program level is discussed with regard to online class size, faculty workload, Learning Management System (LMS), faculty and staff training, and social presence measurements. The planning, design, and implementation of social presence at the course level is discussed with regard to the online course syllabus, online course design, and techniques that help instructors in implementing social presence in asynchronous/synchronous, audio/video, or text-based online environments.
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Introduction

Growing up in India, my childhood experience included day-to-day interaction with a rich assortment of birds, reptiles, animals, and nature. Among my favorite reptiles and animals were a chameleon and an elephant. Among my favorite natural events was a rainbow. I used to be, and still continue to be, fascinated by a chameleon’s ability to change its colors in a flash. On the other hand, the size of the elephant always attracted me as I observed its presence while walking to my school. What attracted me to the rainbow was its color and its occurrence during the monsoon season. Growing up, the chameleon, the elephant, and the rainbow were always part of the teachings as we were often reminded about observing the situational awareness of a chameleon as it changed its colors, observing the elephant as a whole rather than as a specific part of its body; and understanding the phenomenon of rainbow occurring sometimes and not at other times depending on the position of the participant observer, the position of the sun, and other moving elements of the phenomenon. This chapter presents that the metaphors of chameleon, elephant, and rainbow could serve us well in understanding the nature of social presence and designing and implementing social presence in online programs and online classes. Social presence is defined here as a participatory quality that helps us relate to other individual or a group of individuals with or without their immediate physical presence.

This book chapter argues that social presence as a participatory quality is like a chameleon, it changes its facets given the context of the medium, class size, the mode of delivery, and other elements. It argues that social presence as a participatory quality is like an elephant whose whole being is never fully in our view. One needs to take an integrative approach in understanding its nature so that one can appropriately integrate it with online program planning, online course design, and online course implementation. Finally, this chapter explains that social presence as a participatory quality is like a rainbow, a widely observed and experienced phenomenon, but highly subjective in nature and dependent on a set of interrelated conditions that give rise to it. Although widely observed, its existence is dependent on the subject feeling or experiencing it. Social presence only exists if a participant subject perceives or feels it to exist. As Kehrwald (2010) notes, “…the dominant conceptions of social presence are essentially subjective. They involve subjective projections of self (as subject) into technology mediated environments, subjective assessments of others’ presence and assessments of the subject’s relations with others.” (p. 41)

Social presence is described here as a necessary condition of online learning and online program success, but not as a sufficient condition in itself. As Ivankova and Stick (2007), and Beaudoin (2010 & 2013) have argued, other significant factors involving the success of online learning program include the quality of the academic program, self-motivation and self-directedness of the learner, and learning management system. The integration and evaluation of the efficacy of social presence along with these other conditions is imperative for the success of the online program and for the success of the online course.

In what follows, social presence’s importance is discussed with regard to the academic issues of student retention, student learning, degree completion, student satisfaction, and student success. The nature of social presence is discussed in light of contemporary theories of social presence as they apply to the online learning environment. We will discuss the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, a widely used framework for understanding the nature of social presence in online learning environment (Kumar, Dawson, Black, Cavanaugh, & Sessums, 2011) and its emerging and lesser known alternatives, such as Whiteside’s Social Presence Model (Whiteside & Garrett Dikkers, 2012), Jézégou’s Online Community of Inquiry Model (Jézégou, 2012), and Gunawardena et al.’s Final Outcome Centered Around Learner (FOCAL), a transformation design model (Gunawardena et al., 2004). A discussion and tips on the implementation of social presence at the program and the course level follows. The last section of this book chapter points to the future directions of research on social presence in an online learning environment.

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