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How to Make the Most of Online Interaction

, , University at Albany/SUNY, United States

EdMedia + Innovate Learning, in Montreal, Canada ISBN 978-1-880094-40-2 Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC


The educational community is finding itself on the edge of a new era, online learning. Online learning has been shown to be more cost-effective and convenient than traditional educational environments as well as providing opportunity for more learners to continue their education. However, some critics claim that web-based or online learning is not as effective as traditional classroom learning experiences (see Freeman and Capper, 1999; Noble, 1996; Perelman, 1992; Cuban, 1986). When queried as to the difference in the learning experiences across environmental format, many cite the lack of face-to-face interactions as being the foremost deficiency. However, when considering this challenge, researchers have to ask themselves if it is really the act of viewing, the instructor/students, that is an essential element of learning, and if not, then what element are these critics referring to? Perhaps it is the interactions that take place between the student and instructor, but interactions can take place in an online environment as well as in a traditional classroom. This being the case, we argue that the element that critics are referring to is that of "social presence." Social presence theory, a sub-area of communication theory, postulates that the critical factor in a communication medium is its "social presence," which is defined as the "degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships" (Short, Williams, and Christie; 1976, p. 65). This is interpreted as the degree to which a person is perceived as a "real person" in mediated communication. Short, et al. further define social presence as a quality of the medium itself and hypothesized that communication media vary in their degree of social presence. Social presence is described as a construct that comprises a number of dimensions relating to the degree of interpersonal contact including the concepts of "intimacy" and "immediacy." Thus, it can be argued that social presence is both a factor of the medium as well as of the communicators and their presence in a sequence of interactions (Gunawardena and Zittle; 1997).


Richardson, J. & Swan, K. (2000). How to Make the Most of Online Interaction. In J. Bourdeau & R. Heller (Eds.), Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2000--World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 1488-1489). Montreal, Canada: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved October 14, 2019 from .