Several studies have reinforced the importance of the faculty member’s social presence in an online learning environment (Tu, 2000; Richardson and Swan, 2003; Rovai and Barnum, 2003; Palloff and Pratt, 2007). Whereas face-to-face communication has the most social presence and text on a page has the least, online courses fall in between. It takes conscious thought and action for students to see the faculty (and each other) as “real” people in their online class. Palloff and Pratt note:
There is one important element, however, that sets online distance learning apart from the traditional classroom setting: Key to the learning processes are the interactions among students themselves, the interactions between faculty and students, and the collaboration in learning that results from these interactions (p. 4).
Student-faculty contact does not just occur but instead is the result of active participation and interaction by you with your online students. Mupinga, Nora and Yaw (2006) noted that frequent communication with the instructor puts the online students at ease to know they are not missing anything or that they are not alone in cyberspace. Interaction with online instructors has been correlated with increased learning. Students with the highest levels of interaction with the instructor also had the highest levels of learning, according to Frederickson et al. (2000). Several researchers have noted that teaching presence is a significant determinate of student satisfaction, perceived learning, and sense of community (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Arbaugh, 2008; Shea et al. 2004, 2005).
Your perceived presence in your online classes is therefore critical.
Many tend to think that online classes are cold, but researchers have found that online communication can be just as personal, if not more, than non-computer mediated communication. The literature on social presence suggests that you and your students can create and maintain a sense of social presence through the following strategies:
- Expression of emotions
- Continuing a thread
- Quoting from other messages
- Referring explicitly to other messages
- Asking questions
- Complimenting, expressing appreciation
- Expressing agreement
- Vocatives (i.e., referring to participants by name)
- Addresses or refers to the group using inclusive pronouns
- Phatics / Salutations (i.e., communication that is purely social)
(Rourke et al., 2001)
For additional reading on social presence, check out:
Garrison, D.. (2011). E-Learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice, 2nd edition. Routledge.
Community of Inquiry Website – https://coi.athabascau.ca/
Fiock, H. (2020). Designing a Community of Inquiry in Online Courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 135-153. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i5.3985
This article ties together the ideas of cognitive, teaching, and social presence with the Seven Principles of Good Practice previously discussed.