Evolution and Influence of Social Presence Theory on Online Learning

A major point in the article Evolution and Influence of Social Presence Theory on Online Learning by Lowenthal was that social presence has varying definitions.  Researcher Gunawardena stated that it was the perception that the person you were talking in a computer mediated communication (CMC) was a “real” person. Researcher Garrison felt that it was more about these “real” people being able to interact socially and emotionally.  Researcher Picciano had a slightly different take in that social presence was the sense of belonging students had in a CMC and being able to interact with each other and the instructor.  My opinion is similar to that of Picciano.  In social presence the interaction among members of a group is more important than developing a perception that the person on the other end of a CMC is a real.  I think the first definition would be more common in the late 1980s when communication through a computer was new and still very much unfamiliar.  But today using this medium is very common not only in educational settings but also outside this context among friends and family members.  Social presence is a key ingredient in an online education environment because it increases cognitive development (as referenced in social constructivism). As such, in order to maximize its potential benefits, participation guidelines will most likely need to be required because even though students may realize the learning benefits of social presence, without the requirement it will be easy for students to skip it.  Through regular communication, the degree of social presence will increase. Once this has been established different strategies and activities can be used to enhance it.  Techniques that I have found to be useful are examples and non-examples of text entries, reminders, discussion boards, small group projects, storytelling, humor, and emoticons, which are good for nonverbal cues.

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