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Friday, November 03, 2006

Repost from the AECT BlogTrack - Social Presence in Virtual Schooling

This week's repost, the third entry and last one from April 2006.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was at AERA in San FranciscoI posted an entry entitled Teaching How To Teach Online at my other virtual school blog (i.e., Virtual High School Meanderings). While there were a number of things that interested me about this presentation, the one that stuck with me the most was the notion of social presence that was presented.

One of the presenters, Chad Harms (who I assume isworking on his dissertation in this area) presented a view of social presence that included six variables:

  1. Co-presence - being aware of others involved in the interaction
  2. Attentional allocation - the amount of attention that one allowed and that one received
  3. Perceived message understanding - basically to quote from Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth.”
  4. Perceived affective understanding - understanding the feeling implied by the other person involved in the interaction (i.e., empathy)
  5. Perceived affective interdependence - how that sense of empathy affects how others feel
  6. Perceived behavioural interdependence - how people respond to others’ involved in the interaction

I was quiet interested in this for a variety of reasons. The first is that I believe that social presence plays a large role in the instruction that occurs with virtual school students and I also believe that it is a major factor in the amount of transactional distance experienced by a virtual school student.

Now I’ll confess that I haven’t done a thorough reading of the social presence literature. I have read some and feel that it could even form part of the theoretical foundation that I will develop for my own research on virtual schooling. In the reading that I have done, I have developed the following understanding of social presence theory…

Short, Williams and Christie (1976) define social presence as the “degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationship…” (p. 65). This can be described as the level at which the learner feels that the other person has projected themselves as a real person, which has historically been measured using a rating on “scales such as unsocialable – socialable, insensitive – sensitive, cold – warm, and impersonal – personal” (p. 66). This theory was intended to be a measure of the medium of communication, however, recent studies (see Gunawardena and Zittle, 1997; Tu, 2000, 2001, 2002; Tu and McIsaac, 2002; Vrasidas and McIsaac, 1999) have found that the level of social presence can vary within a single medium. These new inquiries into the theory of social presence as it relates to computer-mediated communications have lead some to speculate that historical factors may be inadequate constructs. Tu and McIsaac (2002) propose that there are three dimensions of social presence: social context, online communication, and interactivity. They believe that such factors as “task orientation, privacy, topics, recipients/social relationships, and social processes” (p. 134) are all aspects of social context. These, along with the level of online communication and interactivity, dictate the level of social presence felt by the learner.

But like I said, I haven’t done a thorough reading. My good friend and colleague, Nathan Lowell has though, as his dissertation only two or three years ago was on the topic of transactional distance and his model included social presence as one of the potential variables of transactional distance. In fact, it was his dissertation (Lowell, 2004) that first got me into the literature on social presence. So, unless a great deal has been written about social presence in the past two years that has expanded the original concept to include these six variables or my good buddy really didn’t do a good job on his own lit review. As I highly doubt it is the latter, I can only wonder what it is that I have missed in the literature over the past two years that has created this discussion on an expanded view of social presence?

Selected Bibliography:

Gunawardena, C. N., & Zittle, F. J. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer-mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), 8-26.

Lowell, N. O. (2004). An investigation of factors contributing to perceived transactional distance in an online setting. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.

Short, J., Williams, E., & Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. London, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons.

Tu, C. H. (2000). On-line learning migration: From social learning theory to social presence theory in a CMC environment. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 23, 27-37.

Tu, C. H. (2001). How chinese perceive social presence: An examination of interaction in online learning environment. International Council for Education Media, 38(1), 45-60.

Tu, C. H. (2002). The measurement of social presence in an online learning environment. International Journal on E-Learning, 1(2), 34-45.

Tu, C. H., & McIsaac, M. (2002). The relationship of social presence and interaction in online classes. American Journal of Distance Education, 16(3), 131-150.

Vrasidas, C. & McIsaac, M. S. (1999). Factors influencing interaction in an online course. American Journal of Distance Education, 13(3), 22-36.

So what do you think?

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