Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

Best Practices for Creating Social Presence and Caring Behaviors Online

Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

Best Practices for Creating Social Presence and Caring Behaviors Online

Article excerpt

The Institute of Medicine (2011) recom- mends that nursing programs examine and update their curricula so that faculty are better equipped to adjust to changes in sci- ence and technology, patient care needs, and student preferences. In response to this call, innovative and creative nursing programs that incorporate technologic advances - in both synchronous and asynchronous formats - are emerging to address the unique learn- ing styles of a diverse student population, including the millennial learner. Courses offering traditional, didactic, face-to-face learning are being augmented or simulta- neously offered with online pedagogies that feature voice-over lectures and Internet dis- cussions. Although some students and fac- ulty find traditional classes appealing, online or distance learning attracts students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend nursing classes due to work and family demands (Mayne & Wu, 2011).

Students often state that their reason for choosing nursing as a career is based on a desire "to care" for people (Roach, 2008, p. 16). Caring has been a dominant theme in shaping nursing programs and a compo- nent of nursing student skills assessment. According to Watson (1988), caring is "the moral ideal of nursing," defined as a "value and an attitude that has to become a will, an intention, or a commitment, that manifests itself in concrete acts" (p. 32). Caring is the "heart of nursing," an ontology that is the ethical and philosophical foundation of the art of nursing, and it involves a deep com- mitment to the patients, families, and com- munities that nurses encounter. Students learn caring behaviors through faculty mod- eling and values in the traditional classroom setting (Watson); however, these behav- iors are difficult to portray in the online environment (Gallagher-Lepak, Reilly, & Killion, 2009).

If caring is viewed as the essence of nursing, can caring and social presence be demonstrated in a virtual environment where visual and verbal cues and behaviors are absent? One challenge that faces fac- ulty who teach online classes is to create a sense of social presence where students feel connected and part of the learning environ- ment. Mayne and Wu (2011) define social presence as the "degree to which partici- pants in computer-mediated communication feel affectively connected to one another" (p. 111). Students often describe feeling iso- lated and disconnected when participating in online learning. Fostering social presence is a challenge for faculty because the feel- ing of presence is an emotion that conveys a connection of being wanted by others and being cared for. In the context of an online community, social presence has common characteristics with models of caring (Shen, Yu, & Khalifa, 2010).

An additional challenge in the online environment involves identifying ways to display the caring behaviors typically dis- played in the traditional classroom setting, (Gallagher-Lepak et al., 2009) through behaviors, interactions, and role-modeling by faculty. In an online class, these behaviors are difficult to portray.

Numerous examples of nursing courses exist that address best practices on how to promote social presence to a diverse student body; however, there is a dearth of literature that addresses how caring and social pres- ence can be conveyed in an online classroom. This article identifies best practices and evi- dence-based strategies for creating an online learning environment that encompasses car- ing behaviors and promotes social presence.


A Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature search was conducted using a combination of key words, including social presence, caring, online, and distance learning, for articles published between 2006 and 2011. Articles that included the key words in the title or abstract and research that concerned all levels of online degree-focused programs were considered for this review; conference abstracts and other "gray litera- ture" were excluded. …

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