Social presence and interactivity in online courses: Enhancing the online learning environment through discussion and writing
Anne M. Harrigan, University of Wyoming, United States
University of Wyoming . Awarded
This study explored social presence and interactivity in an online undergraduate program designed for adult students. Although social presence and interactivity have been shown to be important contributors to student satisfaction, and therefore essential to student recruitment and retention in online programs, the ultimate goal for the examination and implementation of emerging educational practices is to enhance student learning. This study examined social presence and interactivity in relationship to student performance, measured as graded online discussion participation and written project grades. Inferential statistical analysis was used in comparing means and performing correlations to determine relationships among the variables. Additionally, in-depth descriptive analyses of social presence and interactivity as defined for this study, led to conclusions that add to the conversation about the significance of discussion and writing in online educational environments and in higher education more generally.
This research highlights a need for further research on social presence and interactivity in online learning. In this study, social presence, represented as a score on a Computer-Mediated Communications Questionnaire, had no significant relationship to student performance. Interactivity, defined as participation in online discussion, had a significant positive relationship to performance on written project assignments. A closer look at the variables and how they were measured revealed that emphasis should be on incorporating discussion activity into online learning environments as a way to help students engage in their learning and perform better on written assignments that are designed by instructors as a way for students to demonstrate their learned knowledge. Furthermore, the complex relationship between social presence and interactivity merits further investigation as educators continue to endorse the benefits of social presence in online learning. Online educators and instructional designers would benefit from additional research results that clarify what we mean by social presence and interactivity and their benefits in the online learning environment.
Harrigan, A.M. Social presence and interactivity in online courses: Enhancing the online learning environment through discussion and writing. Ph.D. thesis, University of Wyoming.
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