Power Distance and Teacher Authority in an Online Learning Environment: Does Culture Affect Student Reactions to Instructor Presence?

Power Distance and Teacher Authority in an Online Learning Environment: Does Culture Affect Student Reactions to Instructor Presence?

Servet Celik (Karadeniz Technical University, Turkey)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3229-3.ch003
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Computer-aided instruction has assumed a prominent role in language teacher preparation programs, as educators increasingly turn to online environments to extend learning beyond the classroom, stimulate critical thinking, and motivate future language teachers to “think outside the box” and take responsibility for their own learning. In online educational settings, instructor presence plays a significant role, and its impact has been extensively explored. However, the majority of the research has been carried out in Western countries, where the cultural norms of individualism, low power distance between teachers and students, and a high level of acceptance of instructor feedback typically play a positive role in online student-teacher interactions. Few studies have looked at the issue of instructor presence in Eastern cultures, where teachers are traditionally granted a high degree of authority, and learners often have a lower tolerance for situations where independent thought and creativity are called for – as is often the case in online learning.
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Social Presence

Vygotsky (1978) argued that all learning takes place not only on an intellectual plane, but also on an affective and social level; as such, teaching and learning can be construed as essentially social activities. With this in mind, social presence, which is established both by the efforts of an individual to interact with others and by others’ interpretation of these efforts (Kehrwald, 2008), is considered as a major factor in successful learning; particularly in online environments where visible participation and interpersonal communication are the only indicators that the instructor is involved. Therefore, Aragon (2003) stresses that responding to questions and posts in a timely fashion and making conversation is needed in order to promote a community mentality. Beuchot and Bullen (2005) take this idea a step further, suggesting that course instructors should put forth a positive effort to develop interpersonal relationships with students in an online learning environment; while Kehrwald (2008) likewise holds that building rapport and trust between the instructor and class members can help to establish a sense of belonging. This sense of community, fostered by a high level of instructor engagement, is indicated by Oblinger (2014) and Rapp and Anyikwa (2016) as supporting greater learner achievement.

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