What’s in Your Tool Box? Tools to Optimize Social Presence and Student Engagement in an eLearning Environment

Concurrent Session 1
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Brief Abstract

Instructors must break down barriers to student learning and engagement in elearning environments. Tools for building effective social presence in instruction will be discussed.  Participants are encouraged to share challenges in design and instruction of a course. Facilitators will workshop with participants to ensure that all leave the session with a fuller toolbox.


Lori Kupczynski, Ed.D. has served over 20 years in higher education in the areas of English, Communication, Adult Education, Higher Education and Educational Leadership. She currently serves as a Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Previously, she has served as Associate Professor and Program Director of the Educatonal Leadership doctoral program, doctoral level transcripted certificate program in Higher Education Administration and Leadership (HEAL) and the Adult Education Masters Program. She was the Recipient of the 2012 United States Distance Learning Association’s Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the field of Distance Learning Award and the 2012 Distinguished Researcher Award from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. She also received the 2017 Outstanding Senior Faculty Award in the College of Education and Human Performance at TAMUK. Her research agenda focuses on developing a deeper understanding of interactions among adult learners in online learning environments through the development of grounded theory to explain the interactions within the Community of Inquiry Framework (CoI). A secondary track of research is on new and emerging technologies complementary to research with adult learners online. Lori has published over 75 peer reviewed articles in the field and has presented at numerous prestigious national and international conferences.
Dr. Angela M. Gibson serves as Lecturer in the Higher Education Administration Leadership doctoral certificate and masters of Adult Education program at Texas A&M University - Kingsville. Additionally, she serves as faculty for the Online Learning Consortium Institute for Professional Development teaching in the Online Teaching Certificate Program, designing and facilitating workshops, and serving as a mentor to professional educators. She has taught first-year, senior, and graduate students, designed and developed curriculum, and created initiatives for student engagement, strategic learning, and innovation. In addition to roles during her 25 plus years in higher education, academics, and student affairs at a diverse set of colleges and universities, she made the rank of Professor at American Public University System. Angela received a Masters of Arts in Human Performance Systems, with a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, from Marymount University and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with concentrations in Adult Education and Community College Education, from Texas A and M University - Kingsville. She has been published in various peer reviewed journals, is on journal editorial boards, presents at national and international conferences, and served on the Online Learning Conference Steering Committee and was the 2017 Chair of the Technology Test Kitchen. In 2019, Angela was a Campfire Keynote Speaker for the OLC Innovate Conference. Dr. Gibson is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and volunteers as an informal STEM educator creating learning opportunities at schools and with community organizations as well as providing social media outreach for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She is a recipient of the Online Learning Consortium 2014 Effective Practice Award.
Dr. Shannon Groff is a contributing faculty member for the University of St. Augustine Online programs as well as the advisor for current and prospective EdD learners. She currently teaches in the the Post-Professional programs as well as in the EdD doctoral program. Prior to joining the USA, Dr. Groff continues to teach full-time for Florida State College at Jacksonville. Dr. Groff has worked in higher education for over thirteen years of which she has experience in educational theory, course development and design, e-learning, quality assurance, student engagement, curriculum design, faculty training and development, and commitment to success. Dr. Groff adheres to a belief in education that the key to successful motivation of learners is in building relationships while embracing educational theories in order to create positive learning environments. She holds a MAE from the University of North Florida where she specialized in English and a PhD from Northcentral University where she focused on Educational Technology and e-Learning. The focus of Dr. Groff’s research was to examine how audio feedback and innovation in online education generates motivation in adult learners and how that motivation along with technological advances accessible in education relates to success and retention in higher education. Dr. Groff completed her doctoral work utilizing the community of inquiry theory as her theoretical framework, and the effects of teacher presence in online courses through meaningful feedback, as a mechanism to increase student motivation and success. Dr. Groff enjoys presenting at local, state, and national conferences, participating in workshops, and interprofessional collaborative summit meetings. She is currently residing on a FLDOE state committee for the redesign of courses in the field of education. Prior to focusing on education, Dr. Groff was a Psychology major intending to work with children, upon further deliberation, Dr. Groff discovered working in education would enable her to achieve two goals: working with a specific population helping them achieve success. Dr. Groff now focuses on online learning and ways in which to make it more engaging and exciting for members in the healthcare fields who one day would like to either transition from clinician to educator, or wear both hats as many do.

Extended Abstract

Strong teaching presence in an online classroom can benefit and strengthen the connections to fellow learners and to the learning content. Though there is much emphasis on content, and rightfully so, the effectiveness and effort of instruction can significantly impact the achievement and success of elearning students (Shea, Vickers, & Hayes, 2010). Mohr and Shelton (2017) identified management, organization, and planning as being best practices for professional development of online instructors. Effective application of instructional and organization tools can aid instructors with time on task and effective time management giving the educator more time to devote to social and cognitive components in the classroom. Furthermore, these tools can also aid instructors with time and workload management associated with online teaching (Wingo, Ivankova, & Moss, 2017; Kebritchi, Lipschuetz, & Santiague, 2017). In this presentation, the facilitators will engage participants in exploration of tools and strategies to increase instructional efficacy and promote social presence and student engagement in elearning environments.


Social and cognitive presences which, along with teaching presence, create the basis for the theoretical framework of the Community of Inquiry which guides practitioners in their creation and application of methods and tools that can support student learning and add to the opportunities students have for deeper engagement in the course, increased academic success, and continued persistence in their education (Arbaugh, Cleveland-Innes, Diaz, Garrison, Ice, Richardson, & Swan, 2009).


Teaching presence is the design, facilitation, and direction laid out for the cognitive and social presences to create a navigational map for a learner. The instructional elements of the teaching presence must connect the student meaningfully to learning outcomes. Activities within the course, the framework of the discussion and flow of facilitation, as well as contact with students through direction instruction, focusing and resolving issues, complete the presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). Through advanced planning and organization, and active utilization in real time, instructional faculty can operationalize tools and strategies to expand the positive impact of teaching presence.


Social presence, how an individual connects with and perceives the online environment, is important for learning and engagement (Richardson, Maeda, Lv, & Caskurlu, 2017; Irwin & Berge, 2006; Richardson & Swan, 2003). This factor in student engagement and academic achievement is increased by the perception of those in the classroom being real people. Instructors must break down barriers and connect on the personal level as well as model such behaviors for others in the environment to emulate.


Social presence can be increased via the use of multimedia in the elearning environment (Lu, 2017). But, the integration of multimedia tools may be perceived as a burden that increases workload and demands on instructor time (Kibritchi et al., 2017). However, application of these tools and strategies can also increase instructional efficacy with multimedia integration. Futhermore, Singh and Hurley (2017) identified lack of planning as a major barrier to effective teaching and learning within online classrooms. Indicating that the use of more organizational tools would benefit elearners.


Tools and strategies for the design of and delivery of instruction through interactions and engagement will be presented and discussed as part of the presentation.  Participants in the session will be encouraged to share challenges and barriers to creating effective practices in the building of, prepping for, and teaching in a training program or course. The facilitators will workshop with participants to have them leave the session with a fuller tool box for the optimization and advancement of student learning and engagement.



Arbaugh, J. B., Cleveland-Innes, M., Diaz, S. R., Garrison, R. D., Ice, P., Richardson, J. C., and Swan, K. P. (2009). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the community of inquiry framework using a multi-institutional sample.  Internet and Higher Education, 11(3/4), 133-136.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. Retrieved from http://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Garrison_Anderson_Archer_Critical_Inquiry_model.pdf

Irwin, C., & Berge, Z. (2006). Socialization in the online classroom. E-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, 9(1).

Kebritchi, M., Lipschuetz, A., & Santiague, L. (2017). Issues and Challenges for Teaching Successful Online Courses in Higher Education: A Literature Review. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 46(1), 4-29. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0047239516661713

Lu, H. J. (2017). Sustainability of e-Learning Environment: Can Social Presence Be Enhanced by Multimedia? International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 7(4), 291. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hwangji_Lu/publication/301483515_Sustainability_of_e-Learning_Environment_Can_Social_Presence_Be_Enhanced_by_Multimedia/links/58736e5f08ae6eb871c583f9/Sustainability-of-e-Learning-Environment-Can-Social-Presence-Be-Enhanced-by-Multimedia.pdf

Mohr, S. C., & Shelton, K. (2017). Best Practices Framework for Online Faculty Professional Development: A Delphi Study. Online Learning, 21(4).

Richardson, J. C., Maeda, Y., Lv, J., & Caskurlu, S. (2017). Social presence in relation to students’ satisfaction and learning in the online environment: A meta-analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 402-417. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.001

Richardson, J., & Swan, K. (2003). An examination of social presence in online courses in relation to students' perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, 7(1). Retrieved https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/18713

Shea, P., Vickers, J. & Hayes, S. (2010). Online instructional effort measured through the lens of Teaching presence in the Community of Inquiry Framework: A re-examination of measures and approach. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(3). Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ913864.pdf

Singh, R. N., & Hurley, D. (2017). The effectiveness of teaching and learning process in online education as perceived by university faculty and instructional technology professionals. Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, 6(1), 65-75.

Wingo, N. P., Ivankova, N. V., & Moss, J. A. (2017). Faculty Perceptions about Teaching Online: Exploring the Literature Using the Technology Acceptance Model as an Organizing Framework. Online Learning, 21(1), 15-35. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1140242.pdf