Social Presence in Culturally Mediated Online Learning Environments

Social Presence in Culturally Mediated Online Learning Environments

Vidya Ananthanarayanan (University of the Incarnate Word, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6461-6.ch001
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There is a substantive body of work that examines cross-cultural issues and social presence, respectively, in Online Learning Environments (OLEs). However, there is limited research that examines the interplay of these three variables together. This chapter takes a pragmatic approach to the issues surrounding culture, presence, and interaction in online learning environments to generate awareness of the relevance, timeliness, and importance of this issue among scholar-practitioners, policy makers, and instructional designers. In the process, the author hopes to engender recognition of and discourse around an issue that is still under-represented in literature and research.
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Existing and emergent literature addressing cross-cultural issues in online education reveals diverse research emphases and contexts. Uzuner’s (2009) review identified the following research themes: a) international students' experiences with and perceptions of online learning; b) age and gender-based differences; c) cultural issues in instructional, curriculum, and learning environment design; d) cultural and linguistic influences on student engagement and satisfaction; e) culturally-driven learning practices versus localized pedagogical strategies. The contexts and subjects for these studies ranged from students of a specific nationality to a culturally-diverse group in an online course at a foreign university. There were cross-cultural comparisons by cultural orientations (low-context versus high-context, or collective versus individualistic); and cross-country comparisons among students who were enrolled in online classes in their native countries were also made. The author's independent review reinforced the predominance of these themes with regard to cross-cultural issues in distance and/or online learning.

An exploration of evidence pertinent to social presence and online learning revealed that social presence is chiefly investigated in conjunction with student learning, interaction, engagement and retention, and course success and outcomes. Ancillary research themes address strategies to create social presence, instruments to measure it, the instructor's role, or proffer theoretical frameworks and models to enhance social presence in OLEs. Per Oztok and Brett (2011), research on social presence and online learning consistently focuses on one of the following topics: (a) the correlation between social presence and a sense of community, (b) the correlation between social presence, interactions and behaviors, and (c) the correlation between social presence and success and satisfaction. In summary, social presence is primarily viewed as an influencing variable, not a standalone entity.

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