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Enriching Social Presence through Research and Practice
A Review of 'Social Presence in Online Learning'

By Elaine Yontz / February 2018

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Aimee L. Whiteside, Amy Garret Dikkers, and Karen Swan have edited an admirable and very useful book that combines reviews of research with practical suggestions on several aspects of promoting a sense of community among online learners. Social Presence in Online Learning: Multiple Perspectives on Practice and Research (Stylus Publishing, 2017) examines social presence through three broad lenses: social presence as technologically facilitated; social presence as learners' perceptions; and social presence as a critical literacy. The editors provide continuity to the volume by authoring introductory and concluding chapters and overviews of each of the three perspectives.

The vital importance of a sense of community for student learning, satisfaction, and retention is emphasized. Other topics covered include communication technologies that enhance social presence, the value of nurturing students' sense of social connection with the instructor as well as with classmates, strategies for meeting the needs of differently-abled and at-risk students, and the effect of culture on perceptions of social presence. Blended versus online environments and asynchronous versus synchronous delivery are also examined. The book ends with discussion of future directions in research and application.

Social Presence in Online Learning is part of Stylus Publishing's "Online Learning and Distance Education" series, and was published in conjunction with the Online Learning Consortium. The three editors are recognized authorities and are qualified to edit a volume on this topic. The 13 additional contributors represent universities from all over the United States. The book is divided into five sections of 18 chapters.

Each chapter includes a review of relevant research, discussion of implications for practice, a summary of main points, and a references list. The reviews of research are generously illustrated with tables and figures. The rich lists of references will point readers who wish to learn more in the right direction. Instructors and instructional designers who want to solidify a sense of community within their online courses will find numerous suggestions that can be implemented immediately.

"Understanding Social Presence as Technologically Facilitated" examines the topic from the perspective of computer-mediated communication. These chapters cover the qualities and efficacy of various tools and approaches and emphasize the importance of learner-constructed identities in learning communities.

"Understanding Social Presence as Learners' Perceptions" considers social presence as part of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. In this section, the authors explore the evidence from CoI research that points to the positive effect of social presence on student learning, satisfaction, and retention and of the value of interaction in online discussion. The importance of positive student perceptions and the relationship of current and immersive technologies to student perceptions are also discussed. This section emphasizes behaviors that enhance the social presence of the instructor and the effect of culture on student perceptions of social presence.

"Understanding Social Presence as a Critical Literacy" identifies social presence as a literacy for creating relationships and an emotional climate that are critical for effective online learning. The Social Presence Model (SPM) is discussed in depth. A case study of a professional development program for university faculty includes suggestions for implementing a similar program. Additional chapters discuss accommodating diverse learners and overcoming students' feelings of isolation.

Unfortunately readers who want to delve deeply into either the theory or the application of the topic will find only an introduction in Social Presence in Online Learning. There is not a lot of information that will be new to those who are already well versed in social presence issues.

However, Social Presence in Online Learning makes a thoroughly convincing case for the crucial importance of including social presence considerations in online course design. Another strength is the book is ideally suited to educate those who are newer to the topic and to give them knowledge and tools that can be immediately applied. The writing is easily understood, and the illustrations are useful. While the content and organization of the chapters are admirably designed to effectively convey information. The inclusion of both research reviews and practical advice gives newcomers to the subject a well-rounded foundation.

Social Presence in Online Learning should be extremely valuable as source of continuing education for online instructors and instructional designers, and as a textbook in courses on e-teaching.

About the Author

Elaine Yontz is a professor in the all-online Master of Library Science Program at East Carolina University. She previously served on faculties at the University of South Florida and Valdosta State University. She began teaching online in the fall of 1998.

Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. Copyrights for third-party components of this work must be honored. For all other uses, contact the Owner/Author.

2018 Copyright held by the Owner/Author. 1535-394X/18/02-3178968


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