An examination of social presence cues in online conferences
Mardziah Hayati Abdullah, Indiana University, United States
Indiana University . Awarded
Online conferencing is increasingly being used to mediate interaction in academic settings. It provides a mechanism for creating learning communities and promoting peer discussion, particularly in distance education, which has traditionally isolated students. However, online communication lacks the nonverbal and paralinguistic signals normally available in face-to-face interaction, that convey the social presence of an interactor, or a sense of who a person is. Such cues help interactors respond in appropriate ways, thus supporting the conversation critical to the development of learning communities. It would be useful to know how online participants cope with the absence of such cues.
The purpose of this study was to examine how the social presence of interactors was established in online conferences. The data consisted of the written interactions in two online distance-education courses and interview responses from twelve students. The data were analyzed to identify elements in the written interactions that conveyed to the respondents a sense of the people they were interacting with. Two major categories of social presence cues—personal and relational—were identified. Sociograms were used to compare cue usage and interactional patterns between students identified with stronger social presence and students identified with weaker social presence. More frequent cue usage and more complex interactional patterns were associated with students having stronger social presence. Interview responses indicated that the social presence of interactors was most essential in collaborative learning tasks requiring negotiation, during which it was important to have a sense of how others would react.
The findings suggest that in online conferences where interactors are not physically present, participants use the written text in strategic ways to provide cues about themselves. Their perspectives further our understanding about what elements may be important in promoting interaction in asynchronous online environments.
Abdullah, M.H. An examination of social presence cues in online conferences. Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University.
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