by Eric Ritholz

As a continuation of the concepts from last month’s article: Building a Sense of Community in the Online Classroom I want to break down social presence into three components.  First off, what is social presence?

“Social presence is described as the ability to project one’s self and establish personal and purposeful relationships. The three main aspects of social presence, as defined here, are effective communication, open communication and group cohesion. …Students recognize that they are not there for purely social reasons. A sense of community is based upon common purposes and inquiry. Moreover, social presence is of less importance if the learning activities are information acquisition and there are no collaborative assignments where students can benefit from the perspectives of others.” (Online Community of Inquiry Review, p.63, Garrison)

Social presence is further broken down into three categories of its own.

  1. Emotional Presence: a learner’s personal expressions and values
  2. Open Communication: promoting the focus on mutual awareness and recognition
  3. Group Cohesion: The act of building a sense of group identity

These ideas are not directly a part of how a course’s content is designed or implemented so where do they fit in to the grand scheme of things?  It all seems very abstract but by and large it is not.  In a face to face environment students interact with each other, their instructors and in groups.  Their responses add to a cumulative whole that benefits all participants.  It doesn’t need to be planned, it just happens organically. The online environment is capable of providing this as well but may require examples, encouragement and some planning on the part of the instructor to get the ball rolling.  Think about your courses and how you approach this issue.

  • How do students participate in your class as individuals?
  • How do students participate as groups, as a class, etc?
  • Do students gravitate towards personalizing their assignments?
  • Is a discussion board an integral part of their interaction with each other and their instructor?

In the planning and delivery of an online course, it is often necessary to make deliberate decisions as to what changes need to be made to make the course effective.  On a case by case basis, asking questions like the examples above help both instructors and students in knowing what to expect from every class.


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