The Effective Affect: A Scoping Review of Social Presence

By Mykota, David | International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, May 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Effective Affect: A Scoping Review of Social Presence


Mykota, David, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education


Introduction

How people interact socially in an online learning environment is described as social presence. As social interaction in education has been shown to be a key element to learning (Dewey, 1963; Hiltz, 1994; Hurst, Wallace & Nixon, 2013; Liaw & Huang, 2000), it is important to understand the relationship between social presence and online learning. Social presence is the way individuals develop inter-personal relationships, communicate, and project themselves online. Social presence is one of the more important concepts used to determine the level of interaction and effectiveness of online learning (Borup, West, & Graham, 2012; Kim, Kwon, & Chow, 2011; Richardson & Swan, 2003). However, part of the problem is that the definition of what constitutes social presence was conceived over forty years ago when communication on the computer through the Internet was relatively basic (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997; Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 1999; Tu, 2002: Tu & McIsaac, 2002).

Consequently, the understanding of what comprises social presence has become a more complex multi-faceted phenomenon, in part because the construct has been characterized by multidisciplinary research in the fields of higher education, social psychology, educational psychology, information technology, and computer science. As a result, the definition of social presence lacks clarity, making it difficult to establish what is or is not working, socially and interpersonally, in online higher education. There have been a few attempts to synthesize the research literature on social presence, with the majority of studies having been in the form of literature reviews, book chapters, or books (e.g., Aragon, 2003; Cui, Lockee, & Meng, 2012; Lowenthal, 2010; Whiteside, Dikkers, & Swan, 2017). The only study that undertook a somewhat methodical approach was an integrative review conducted by Chen, Fang, and Lockee (2015). The review, however, was limited to studies up until 2013. Though it provided an admirable exemplar of the evolution of social presence research, as well as measurement and definitional issues, the number of studies pertaining to social presence has almost doubled since it was conducted.

Scoping reviews of primary research are gaining acceptance as evidenced-based practice and are becoming an increasingly popular way to map the relevant literature in depth, clarify conceptual limitations, and articulate working definitions (e.g., Arksey & O'Malley, 2005; Colquhoun et al., 2017; Levac, Colquhoun, & O'Brien, 2010; Peters et al., 2015). Other than the aforementioned integrative review, there has not been a scoping review on social presence conducted so as to facilitate knowledge translation. To address this gap, the focused purpose of the study is to conduct a scoping review of the construct social presence to determine how it has been conceptualized and implemented in higher education online learning environments. The overarching questions to be answered are: 1) How is the construct social presence defined? 2) What elements, either technological or social, augment the development of social presence? and 3) What outcomes are the result of social presence?

Methods

Scoping studies are considered more rapid reviews of the literature, ask broad questions, can have post hoc inclusion or exclusion criteria, do not assess for bias, and examine a wide range of evidence (Levac et al., 2010). The approach used for the scoping review followed the original design advocated by Arksey and O'Malley (2005) for the conducting of scoping reviews with enhancements by Levac, et al. (2010). Peters et al.'s (2015) guidelines for undertaking scoping reviews were also followed. There were six stages to the conducting of the scoping review, which included, identifying the research questions, identifying relevant studies, screening and selecting studies, charting the data, collating and summarizing, and reporting the results. …

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