Integrating the Social Presence Model to Maximize Blended and Online Learning Experiences

Author Information
Author(s): 
Aimee L. Whiteside
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Social Presence Model offers a framework to helps students, instructors, and other professionals around the world to maximize their online exchanges through increased awareness of linguistic nuances, social interaction, learning communities, instructor involvement, and prior knowledge and experiences.  The Model creates an awareness of the importance of creating critical connections and cultivating relationships in learning communities, which can result in increased student motivation and elevated learning outcomes.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

This Model is based on programmatic research in social presence (Whiteside, 2007), which extends the Social Presence coding schemes of Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, and Archer (2001) and Swan and Shih (2005) . The previous coding schemes referenced three distinct social presence categories: Affective, Cohesive, and Interactive categories. The Social Presence Model extends the previous research by integrating five key elements that can help instructors and students maximize the learning experience: Affective Association, Community Cohesion, Interaction Intensity, Knowledge and Experience, and Instructor Investment. (See Figure 1 below).


Figure 1. The Social Presence Model


  Affective Association addresses the emotional connections in the course. Affection Association examines emotion, humor, sarcasm, paralanguage, and self-disclosure.  Community Cohesion represents the extent to which participants see the group as a community. This concept is examined through greetings and salutations used, referring to each other as a community, and the extent to which students and instructors reference each other by name. Interaction Intensity refers to the level of interaction among participants, including direct quotes, paraphrasing, complimenting, and asking questions. Knowledge and Experience involves sharing of additional resources and experiences. Finally, Instructor Investment refers to the extent to which the instructor is an invested, active partner in the learning community.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

In a study involving two iterations of a 13-month graduate-level certificate program at a large Midwestern University (Whiteside, 2007), the instructors emphasized the importance of establishing relationships in their courses to spur social presence. They indicated that “learning stems from relationships” and if students “don’t have a relationship with somebody” or a connection to them, then students are not invested in each and they do not have “the incentive to interact.” Each of the instructors and students interviewed found that the initial community building activities were essential to establishing the foundation for social presence, building relationships, and extending overall learning. When that community building and social presence falters, a student suggested, so does the “overall learning.”

This case study research suggests that the Social Presence Model and its five key elements help facilitators increase the level of trust and respect in an online community, which can motivate student participants to take a more active role in their own and their peers’ construction of knowledge. The Model is important because many instructors are completely still new to effective online learning practices, and they may need scaffolding and assistance to help them create an ideal learning environment for their students. The Social Presence Model provides an essential framework to compliment the pedagogical and technical support that instructors new to campus and new to online learning need. Additionally, many students are also new to online learning and introducing them to a framework can help create an awareness of their actions and correspondences in a way that they might not have considered.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This practice improves three pillars: learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction.

In the above mentioned study, instructors noted that “learning stems from relationships” and if students “don’t have a relationship with somebody” or a connection to them, then students are not invested in each and they do not have “the incentive to interact.” The Model relates to faculty satisfaction and learning effectiveness because it is a heuristic that can be integrated to help instructors design effective online learning practices—to help them create a more ideal learning environment for them and for their students. The Social Presence Model provides an essential framework for instructors who are new to campus, are new to online learning, or are who are seeking additional pedagogical assistance for blended/online learning environments.

In relation to student satisfaction and learning effectiveness, each of the students interviewed in the above mentioned study found that the initial community building activities were essential to establishing the foundation for social presence, building relationships, and extending overall learning. This data suggests that many students are either new to blended/online learning or they are still seeking advice for the blended/online learning environment. This framework can help students create an awareness of their actions and correspondences in a way that they may not have previously considered. When that community building and social presence falters, one student suggested, so does the “overall learning.”

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

 No equipment is necessary to implement this Effective Practice.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

  There are no probable costs associated with this Effective Practice.

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Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Aimee Whiteside
Email this contact: 
whitesidea@uwstout.edu