Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Social Presence and Interaction in Learning Environments: The Effect on Student Success

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Social Presence and Interaction in Learning Environments: The Effect on Student Success

Article excerpt

Introduction

In recent years, the influence of social media has spread into various fields, including education. In particular, researchers have focused on exploring whether social media can provide pedagogical benefits for improving the academic success of students (Junco & Mastrodicasa, 2007; Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2010; Junco & Cotten, 2011). Additionally, they have examined the impact of using social media on non-academic skills, such as self-expression, communication and teamwork (Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2010), where social interaction plays a crucial role.

Lately, we have also witnessed the spread of personal learning environments (PLEs) (Attwell, 2007) that combine different tools based on social software that supports online learning and provides learners with the opportunity to adapt the learning environment to their learning needs. Chatti et al. (2010a, 2010b) define PLEs as encompassing tacit knowledge nodes, i.e. people, and explicit knowledge nodes, i.e. information.

Although social software used in PLEs contains various solutions, such as software aggregators, it mostly lacks extensibility and portability. As of now, we have not seen the systematic exchange and integration of online presence data from diverse social software tools as a part of modern PLEs (Jovanovic, Gasevic, & Devedzic, 2009). The main deficiency is in the lack of tight coupling between various tools that influence the online learning process. Consequently, students cannot be fully available and reached by each other whenever they want.

The study described in this paper aimed to meet this deficiency, as we developed a PLE called Online Presence for Learning (OP4L PLE). Within this system, social interaction and social presence were fostered by two communication tools: a social interaction tool and a social presence tool. The main idea was to make students aware of their peers' online presence regardless of their availability within the PLE. We evaluated a learning strategy based on social interaction and social presence to test whether, and to what extent, learning in the PLE can be improved by utilizing tools. Our main purpose was to draw conclusions that would help us improve the system prototype and develop a successful learning strategy to support social interaction and social presence.

The paper is organized as follows. We start by providing a short background and literature review. Then we describe the systems similar to the one developed in our study and continue by presenting the OP4L PLE. Next, we explain our research questions and present the research methods, procedure and results. The paper ends with related works, conclusions and an outlook for future work.

Background and literature review

Social interaction refers to a "reciprocal exchange between at least two actors that serves to build relational ties among the actors" (as cited in Walker, 2007, p. 34). Garrison & Anderson (2003) introduced four interactions that occur in educational processes: the interaction between (a) the teacher and learner, (b) the learner and learner, (c) the teacher and content, and (d) the learner and content. Social interaction can also be viewed as a construction of visibility, awareness, and accountability, which are characteristics of so-called social translucence. The idea is to "support coherent behavior by making participants and their activities visible to one another" in computer-mediated communications (Erickson & Kellog, 2000, p.59). Similarly, the concept of social awareness addresses people's sense of other people's social situation and their activities (Gutwin, Greenberg, & Roseman, 1996). In this regard, in computer-mediated communications, and especially within the context of interpersonal social interactions, users can perceive each other more or less "realistically." This phenomenon is called social presence.

Social interaction is closely related to social presence (Tu & McIsaac, 2002). …

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