Social Presence: Communications in Distance Dissertation Courses

Social Presence: Communications in Distance Dissertation Courses

Libi Shen (University of Phoenix, USA) and Irene Linlin Chen (University of Houston – Downtown, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5162-3.ch012
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Abstract

Over the years, the advance of technology has changed the ways of instructions in higher education, and new communication trends as well as innovative pedagogy evolved to be reconciled with new technology trends in distance education. What are the major challenges of communication in distance education? This chapter explores how dissertation chairs perceive social presence in online dissertation courses, and what challenges these online instructors have in distance dissertation mentorship. In this study, the authors interviewed eight experienced dissertation chairs to explore their insights and opinions on the effectiveness of social presence in distance dissertation mentorship as well as to examine the controversies hidden in online instructions. Major issues and problems in applying social presence theories in dissertation mentorship emerged from the interview results. Solutions and recommendations are provided to tackle the problems. Future research directions are indicated as well.
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Introduction

The evolution of technology from Web 1.0 (read-only Web) to Web 2.0 (read-write Web) and to future Web 3.0 (read-write-execute Web) has altered the ways of communication between instructors and students in distance education. How do dissertation chairs (or mentors) communicate or interact with doctoral learners (or mentees) in online dissertation classes? What teaching practices best facilitate teacher-student interaction in online dissertation classes? What technology tools could enhance students’ performance in online dissertation course? What strategies should online teachers use to achieve students’ learning goals and course satisfaction? What are current distance education trends that might influence the interaction between dissertation chairs and doctoral learners?

Beldarrain (2006, p.139) specified that current trends of distance education revealed “a shift in pedagogical perspectives and theoretical frameworks, with student interaction at the heart of learner-centered constructivist environments.” Zawacki-Richter (2010) who reviewed 695 articles in distance education journals between 2000 and 2008, also pinpointed that current research trends in distance education focus on interaction and communication patterns in computer-mediated communication (CMC), instructional designs, learner characteristics, and educational technology. Since the integration of new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration has been the current distance education trend, improving communication and technology in online instruction will make it possible for teachers to achieve the best practices of online instruction, to satisfy students’ needs, and to reach ultimate goal of online instruction and learning. The advantages of online learning are the ability to work independently at own pace and time, not limited to one physical location/ travel expense, and low social/peer pressure consequences; however, the disadvantages of online learning are technology problems, the need to be self-motivated, poor course design, and lack of social presence (Daniels, 2011). Since lack of social presence is one of the features of distance dissertation courses, the purposes of this chapter were to explore dissertation chairs’ perceptions of the role of social presence in online communication, and to find out what challenges they have in the interaction with doctoral learners in distance dissertation mentorship.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Library: A library within a university online system which provides resources and databases to support distance learners to conduct research or to consult information.

Social media: A medium of interactions among people to create, post, share, or exchange information in virtual world, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Skype, etc.

Social Presence: The degree of awareness, feeling, perception, and reaction to another person in the CMC setting or online environment.

Dissertation Chair: A mentor who has a doctoral degree and who guides doctoral learners to complete their dissertations in a university.

Mobile 3.0: An application system for students to access instructor’s materials, notifications, attachments, threads, or replies from their smartphones (e.g., iPhone and Android).

Distance Education: Online education and instruction to students who are not present physically.

Web 2.0: The read-write Web in distance communication.

Instant Messaging: A way of distance communications in which users conduct an online chat through real-time text transmission over the Internet.

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