Perceived Social Presence And Perceived Learning Education Essay

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Russo Koestens study aimed to test the relationships between social network characteristics measured by centrality & prestige and learning outcomes (measured by cognitive & affective aspects). Centrality was measured by the number of messages each participant sent out; prestige was measured by the number of messages each participants received. Cognitive aspect was measured by the grades based on assignments, projects, and exams; affective aspect was measured by 7-item questionnaire adapted from other studies. 21 Participants were involved. Results include: grades are positively correlated with prestige (r=.80, p<.01) and centrality (r=.51, p<.05). It is interesting that although not significantly, prestige and centrality were negatively correlated with affective aspect at -.10 and -.25 level.

Russo and Benson's (2005) study strived to understand presence, and its connections to cognitive learning and affective learning. Presence was measured by a survey colleting data relating to the amount of presence of other students as well as the instructor the participants perceived in their online discussions. Affective learning was measured by a survey as well. Cognitive learning was measure by a survey, grades they would assign themselves, as well as grades they earned (measured in percentage). Results showed that perceived presence of peers and instructors were positively correlated with learner satisfaction. Perceived self-presence was positively associated with points earned and self-estimated grade.

Caspi and Blau (2008) investigated the relationships between perceived social presence and perceived learning. Social presence has three dimensions: presence of others, self-projection, and identification with the group. Perceived learning includes three factors: skill, sharing opinion, and contribution to learning. Then I got lost in their tedious constellation of instruments and factor analyses, and couldn't keep track of how many scales belonged to perceived social presence and how many scales referred to perceived learning. They also talked about that perceived learning included socio-emotional dimension and I was so confused why not made it belong to social presence. Anyway, their results showed that dimensions in social presence were highly correlated with one another, and the perceived social presence was connected to perceived learning.

Tu and Mcisaac's (2002) study focused on qualitatively and quantitatively ferreting out the latent variables of social presence in CMC environments. Four underlying constructs were supported: social context, online communication, interactivity, and privacy. Their discussion section revealed several interesting claims (I skip the ones seem as commonsense to me): 1) students, if know each other, will engage in more informal discussions in CMC, compared with those who don't know each other; 2) assertive students may impede other students' willingness to communicate, 3) Students usually perceive more privacy with relaxed atmosphere as well as greater control and flexibility if they participate in CMC at home than at lab, 4) typing skills influenced their participation in CMC, 5) text-based nature of CMC may be insufficiently express participants' feelings, 6) a feeling of lost in threaded discussions due to the fact that a large number of threads could emerge simultaneously, 7) immediate response is always important to provoke interactions in CMC, 8) "stylistic communication styles … have a very positive impact on students' feelings toward others and influencing learning" (p. 144), 9) formal discussions can increase the psychological distance between participants and may reduce their motivation to participate, 10) prior knowledge of discussion topics are connected with participation in CMC discussions, and 11) small learning communities in CMC can increase interactions and participations.

Swan (2003) conducted a literature review on the interactions in CMC environments. Specifically, they focused on how interactions affect learning. Several important models in the field of CMC were mentioned, such as Rourke et al.'s (2001) community of inquiry model, Danchak et al.'s (2001) equilibrium model. They summarized all the results on page 24-27, so I don't think I need to re-verbalize them here.

Mykota and Duncan (2007) investigated learner characteristics and its impact on social presence in online courses. They found out that the number of online courses taken and the proficiency of using CMC tools were predictors of social presence. More number of online courses students had taken, the more likely they were going to show more social presence. But what really surprised me is the result that social presence was negatively correlated with the use of CMC tools. I thought the direction should be positive or at least shouldn't be negative. Don't know how to explain this though!

My stands: Perception, perception, and perception! But learning =? perceived learning!?

While I was reading all of these articles, I felt two common ways these scholars used to measure cognitive perspective in CMC environments included 1) self-report inventory (to test perceptions, such as Caspi & Blau's and Swan's studies), and 2) grades (e.g., Russo's two manuscripts). The collection of grades as a measure of cognitive growth has been widely criticized due to the concern that grades cannot account for cognitive variances accurately, especially for graduate level courses (they lack the distribution normality). Where as the self-report inventory only tested perceived learning outcomes, but not learning outcomes. Thus, the results couldn't help me identify the cognitive value of social presence. In addition, a lot of the published studies in the field of distance education were correlational studies of perceptions, asking participants to fill out some survey and use statistic tools to test them. Fast, frugal, and efficient for publications, but may not helpful to move the field forward. It is crucial to stop keeping doing such studies. Instead, reflections on the practical value for these studies are needed!

Nevertheless, I understand that the accurate way to test cognitive growth in online learning environments is not easily identified. Thus, I would like to discuss this issue in the class to see if anyone has a better clue to measure cognitive presence in online courses.

Regarding the specific results of these studies, Russo & Koesten's (2005) findings surprised me because I actually assumed the opposite results, which is centrality and prestige influence the affective dimension, not the cognitive dimension. I think students who are intensively interact with peers are more likely to embrace better attitude about the course. But people who lack interaction with peers do not necessarily learning nothing (research on lurkers in online discussions has shown that lurkers actually learned as much as active participants). Also in f2f situations, students who propose problems to others and involve in classroom discussions are not necessarily the ones who get the highest grades, but they are usually the ones who like the class. Thus, their results don't resonate with my anticipation.

I give Tu and Mcisaac (2002) credit due to the possibilities that their findings may be very helpful for online instructors to promote interactions between students. For example, establishing small learning communities can enhance the possibilities for peer interactions and also reduce the work load of online instructors. Assertive students can negatively affect others' participation, which also indicates that online instructs should avoid being assertive as well. Instead, some provoking questions to stir things up without implying any inclinations toward either side of arguments may be a very good way for online instructors to adopt as facilitators.

Additionally, Tu and Mcisaac's study made me to think that there is also a lot of room for technology improvement. Participants in CMC environments may all have experienced some moments to feel hard to keep track of all the posts, because threads just keep emerging simultaneously. Yet the CMC platforms should be changed to facilitate knowledge internalization. I feel that several things can be done: 1) allow participants to eliminate some nonsense postings, 2) allow participants to add tags or notes for each of the post, which could help them recall the content of the post so that they don't have to read the whole post again, and 3) they should be able to rearrange the order of the posts in their own ways (e.g., put them into archives, concept maps, tables…).