Trading Spaces Redesigning Social Presence For The Online Learning Environment

The Social Presence For The Online Learning Environment Redesigned

Online learning creates an alteration in the traditional teaching methods; however, the goals are the same, to promote learning. This significant change in the learning model for students highlights the need for educators to develop methods, strategies, and tools that will create an online learning environment that promotes and fosters collaboration and peer communication. The online learning environment, like a brick and mortar classroom, needs to provide a safe and comfortable community environment that increases student learning and communication.

Foundations Of Learning Theory For The Online Classroom

The new frontier of online learning causes educators to review existing learning theories and their relevant application in the online learning environment. Behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist theories overlap in the design and approach of online learning. According to Ertmer and Newby (1993), the three schools of thought are used as a taxonomy for learning. Behaviorist’ strategies can be used to teach the 'what' (facts); cognitive strategies can be used to teach the 'how' (processes and principles), and constructivist strategies can be used to teach the 'why' (higher-level thinking that promotes personal meaning and situated and contextual learning).

Knowing, blending and implementing the different strategies for each school of learning, behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist will assist the educator in creating a supportive online community environment. Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) developed a theoretical model describing the components of an active online community: cognitive presence, teaching presence and social presence (Anderson 2008). Cognitive presence supports the development and growth of critical skills, the teacher presence is responsible for the structure and process of the educational experience in multiple areas.

It is the social presence that creates a climate where students feel safe to express and share ideas. Developing this social presence and interaction is necessary for providing connectedness in an online environment.

Creating Social Presence In An Online Classroom Increases Learning

Strong feelings of a community increase student participation and willingness to take academic risks. Research conducted by Jung, Choi, Lim, and Leem (1999) analyzed the effects of three types of interaction of learning within the online environment: academic, collaborative and social interaction. The results of the study showed that the social interaction group outperformed the other groups, the collaborative interaction group expressed the highest level of satisfaction with their learning process, and the collaborative and social interaction groups participated more often in posting their opinions to the discussion board than did the academic interaction group. By developing a supportive, interactive online learning community, students receive support and assistance needed, removing the sense of student isolation often associated with an online learning model. Just as in a physical classroom, a positive social presence affects student morale and learning.

Strategies For Developing Positive Social Presence In An Online Learning Environment

Dickers, Whiteside, and Lewis (2012) proposed a social presence model for building community and connections online. This model identifies five critical elements for promoting learners to take an active role in their own and their peers’ online learning experience. These elements are the affective association, community cohesion, interaction intensity, knowledge/experience, and instructor involvement. Five strategies are built from these foundational elements for implementing an active social presence in the online learning environment.

1. How To Promote Student Engagement And Interaction

One way to increase student engagement and emotional interaction is through affective association. Online instructors need to find alternative methods of communication between all users to express different emotions that can be seen and communicated online. Through the use of different types of script, bold words, underlined words, and emoticons, a participant is able to provide textual voice and expression in their online communication. Encouraging users to develop personal avatars, such as Bitmoji, will allow for an animated approach in written expression through messaging applications. Additional techniques for creating affective association is through the use of online announcements that personalize and praise students. Providing all participants access to discussion boards and video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Skype will also aid in the development of the emotional connection, promoting student engagement and interaction.

2. How To Develop Community Cohesion And Interaction

Community cohesion is vital in an online learning environment and is similar to that of a traditional face-to-face classroom. Space and time are necessary for learners to engage and socialize with one another through virtual designed forums, such as collaborative virtual field trips. Virtual hangouts, and social community blogs. Providing multiple opportunities for learners to engage and interact informally encourages the development of an online learning community. To begin the development of student interaction and familiarity with one another teachers can create an introductory unit with peer interviews, biography postings, and other personal information. To assist with the implementation of the introductory unit, a shared virtual space is essential, such as Google Classroom or Blackboard for announcements, open forum discussions, and calendar of events. In addition to the shared space, digital tools such as FlipGrid can be used to promote question and response through a video format, creating an audio-video “web” discussion. Providing different forums for students to collaborate and communicate encourages the development of community cohesion and interaction.

3. How To Develop Student Connection And Interaction

Positive student-teacher relationships impact learning, creating more engagement, an increase of respect for self and others, as well as academic achievement. According to Thompson (1998), “The most powerful weapon available to secondary teachers who want to foster a favorable learning climate is a positive relationship with our students” (p. 6). Interaction intensity is a strategy that teachers in traditional classrooms use to find avenues of personal connection and interaction with their students. The online learning environment provides a world wide web of access for teachers and students to connect and interact. Depending on the age group of your students there are various social environments e.g., Seesaw, Google Classroom, Edmodo, for engaging safely with students, providing a safe and dynamic environment.

4. How To Share Knowledge And Experience

Shared knowledge and experience provide opportunities for teachers and learners to share additional resources and skills to communicate and demonstrate learning. O'Donnell, Dansereau, Hall, and Rocklin (1987) found students in structured dyads experienced less task-related anxiety than students who were working independently. By creating opportunities for peer tutoring and collaborative sharing through an online forum of discussions, hangouts, and blogs, a virtual support system is developed to provide access for sharing of knowledge and experience.

5. How To Provide Instructor Interaction

Instructor interaction and involvement refers to the extent the instructor invests in the students’ learning. The partnership of teaching and learning requires regular communication and feedback, and the online learning environment provides multiple tools for doing this. Utilizing technical resources, such as video blogs, online chats, screencasts, texts, and emails instructors can use numerous ways to interact with their students. The online learning environment provides flexibility and time that a traditional classroom does not, the interaction between student and teacher within an online learning environment is not constrained by time or space, creating more diverse opportunities for feedback and instruction.

Intentional Design Of Social Presence Creates A Community Of Learning

Online learning is not an Instructional Design for the future. It is here and now. The effectiveness of developing a supportive online learning environment requires a social presence and interactivity of all participants. Implementing the strategies shared will create an intentional design of social presence within an online learning environment. By developing a community of learning and sharing students are developing skills and connections needed for continual growth and cohesion among all participants. The rapid growth of online education presents an urgent need for active engagement on multiple levels: the blending of 20th with 21st-century learning theories and the transformation of teaching practices from a physical environment to a virtual environment.


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