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Abstract

Social presence is the extent to which persons are perceived to be real and are able to be authentically known and connected to others in mediated communication. A full appreciation of the concept offers social work educators an antidote to skepticism of online learning and provides an avenue for modeling the development and maintenanceindeed, the transformationof collaborative helping relationships essential to practice. This article opens with a discussion of the place of social presence in its larger conceptual, theoretical, and empirical context and presents identified components along with concrete examples for effectively building social presence into online teaching. We conclude with a discussion of real-world challenges and tensions and pose a series of questions for future research.
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The Centrality of Social Presence in
Online Teaching and Learning in Social
Work
Kia J. Bentley, Mary C. Secret & Cory R. Cummings
Published online: 13 Jul 2015.
To cite this article: Kia J. Bentley, Mary C. Secret & Cory R. Cummings (2015) The Centrality of Social
Presence in Online Teaching and Learning in Social Work, Journal of Social Work Education, 51:3,
494-504
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2015.1043199
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The Centrality of Social Presence in Online Teaching
and Learning in Social Work
Kia J. Bentley, Mary C. Secret, and Cory R. Cummings
Social presence is the extent to which persons are perceived to be real and are able to be
authentically known and connected to others in mediated communication. A full appreciation of
the concept offers social work educators an antidote to skepticism of online learning and provides an
avenue for modeling the development and maintenanceindeed, the transformationof collabora-
tive helping relationships essential to practice. This article opens with a discussion of the place of
social presence in its larger conceptual, theoretical, and empirical context and presents identified
components along with concrete examples for effectively building social presence into online
teaching. We conclude with a discussion of real-world challenges and tensions and pose a series
of questions for future research.
Social presence refers to the extent to which persons are perceived to be real and are able to be
authentically known and truly connected to others in mediated communication. For online
teaching and learning environments, scholars agree that social presence is a particularly powerful
concept because of its seemingly central influence on teaching and learning success.
Specifically, social presence has been both conceptually and empirically linked to the quality
of online learning, including levels of student participation, satisfaction, and student engagement
(Cobb, 2009; Cui, Lockee, & Meng, 2013; Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007).
Social presence in online learning has particular relevance for social work education. The
exponential and projected growth in online teaching and learning in social work (Coe Regan &
Youn, 2008; Raymond, 2005; Robbins, 2013; Vernon, Vakalahi, Pierce, Pittman-Munke, &
Adkins, 2009), coupled with accumulating evidence of the effectiveness of distance education
(Frederickson, Reed, & Clifford, 2005; Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009; Woehle
& Quinn, 2009; York, 2008), means that we can conclude that online teaching and learning is
here to stay. However, despite the increasing prominence of distance education in social work
programs, many faculty members remain skeptical of the online environment as a platform
(Allen & Seaman, 2011) to transmit social work practice knowledge, skills, and values (Coe
Regan, 2005). Much of this skepticism generates from faculty membersstruggle to reconcile
how teaching use of selfand relationship development, commonly recognized as the core of
Accepted: January 2014
Kia J. Bentley is professor, Mary C. Secret is associate professor, and Cory R. Cummings is a doctoral candidate and
research associate at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Address correspondence to Kia J. Bentley, School of Social Work, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1000 Floyd
Avenue, Richmond, VA 23284, USA. E-mail: kbentley@vcu.edu
Journal of Social Work Education, 51: 494504, 2015
Copyright © Council on Social Work Education
ISSN: 1043-7797 print / 2163-5811 online
DOI: 10.1080/10437797.2015.1043199
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social work education, can be accomplished successfully when student and instructor are miles
apart, connected only though inanimate objects such as a computer and the Internet (Coe Regan,
2005; Robbins, 2013; Raymond, 2005; Vernon et al., 2009). However, familiarity with the
concept of social presenceand gaining the requisite knowledge and skills to intentionally
enhance it in online environmentsmay assure educators that there is not only the means to
teach and model the development and maintenance of both collaborative and helping relation-
ships essential to social work practice but also the potential to enhance, reconstruct, and even
transform these relational foundations of social work education and practice.
This article opens with a discussion of the place of social presence in its larger conceptual and
theoretical context, namely, constructivism and the community of inquiry model, which are both
linked to technological applications through the computer supported collaborative learning
model (CSCL). Then the article briefly explores the evolution of definitions of social presence
and discusses identified components of and cues in emotional expression, open communication,
and group cohesion. Finally, concrete ideas and examples for building social presence into
online teaching and learning experiences in social work education are presented. The article
closes with a discussion of real-world challenges, tensions, and dilemmas that arise when
attempting to balance the nurturing of online communities with high academic rigor and the
goals of social work education.
CONCEPTUAL AND THEORETICAL CONTEXT
Perhaps the place to start is with an acknowledgment that the concept of social presence is
deeply rooted in the experiential and the subjective and thus may be inherently amorphous. It
derives from more general notions of human presence, human connection, and immediacy,
which are necessarily relationaland convey a relationship of caring and responsibility
(LaMendola, 2010, p. 109). Important for contrast, we will note here that the opposite of
presence is absence, meaning distant, not attentive, preoccupied, or missing. With social
presence as an online phenomenon, we will see that awareness of the otherand perceived
proximal closeness, whether physical, emotional, or philosophical, will still be key.
Constructivism
Kehrwald (2008, p. 90) argued that online learning provides an excellent venue for teaching
and learning approaches derived from constructivist epistemology,which says that learning is a
combination of the mental processes of an individual as well as more social activities.The
bottom line is that we construct knowledge and meaning though activity and experience. He
noted that the importance of connectivityand interpersonal interactionbetween and among
participants in online learning logically sets up ripe opportunities for mutual modification of
attitudes, skills, beliefs(p. 90). It is this modification of attitudes, skills, and beliefs that is
recognized as transformative learning.
Learning, approached from a constructivist perspective, then becomes dependent on environ-
ment. Not a static, fixed understanding of environment, but environment that is dynamic,
interactional, and dependent on subjective exchanges. Knowledge building requires active
participation in these environments. Specific to our topic here, it is important to consider how
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these environments are fostered in online formats and how space is created for the expression of
subjective and affective experiences in the learning process.
Community of Inquiry Model
Building from the previous discussion of environments and social exchanges, the community
of inquiry (COI) model provides us with a framework for conceptualizing the interaction of
different dimensions of our subjective selves as we participate in a learning environmentor,
more consistent with this model, learning community. This model suggests that three ele-
ments interact in complex ways to create the online community learning experience for
students (Garrison, 2007). The first of these elements is social presence, as defined earlier
and the subject of this article. The second is the notion of teaching presence, which refers to
the structure and processes for learning, including creation of a plan for learning, direct
teaching of content, and basic facilitation of group discussion. Cognitive presence refers to
the more nuanced ways that students are led to deeper or higher levels of learning through
strategies that help students explore, integrate, critically reflect on, clarify, analyze, and come
to resolution about new knowledge (Darabi, Arrastia, Nelson, Cornille, & Liang, 2011).
Although beyond the scope of this article, current research is attempting to clarify the
intricate relationships among these three forcesacknowledged to overlap (Garrison,
Cleveland-Innes, & Fung, 2010; Shea & Bidjerano, 2012)for optimum balance. For
example, what is the influence of teaching presence on social and cognitive presence, or is
social presence a necessary precursorto cognitive presence? Within this COI model,
emphasis is placed on fostering a connection with other learners and the instructor(Tolu
& Evans, 2013, p. 46) in support of shared learning experiences. In negotiating this connec-
tion, it is important for online educators to reflexively consider the role of social presence,
both in course design and virtual interaction.
Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL)
Consistent with the emphasis that constructivism and the community of inquiry model places on
interaction and learning, CSCL provides us with a model of application that joins pedagogic
theory and technological advances in support of shared learning experiences. It is specifically
concerned with the practicality and logistics of how social learning is translated into the virtual
environment. This model explores the dynamics of shared learning environments that are created
and sustained using the medium of computers and advancing technologies. As Stahl,
Koschmann, and Suthers (2014) identified, The goal for design in CSCL is to create artifacts,
activities and environments that enhance the practices of group meaning making(p. 489).
CSCL challenges us to consider how we can translate group processes that are vital to traditional
classroom learning to virtual classroom environments. For example, Graham and Misanchuk
(2004) proposed three stages that need to be considered in establishing successful computer-
mediated learning groups: creating groups, structuring learning activities, and facilitating group
interactions. The CSCL framework shifts our attention to the technological medium as a focal
point through which shared learning interactions transpire (Remesal & Colomina, 2013). This
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entails purposeful and strategic choices surrounding synchronous and asynchronous tools for
course and project design and conscientious attention to social presence through different user
interfaces.
DEFINITIONAL EVOLUTION
As we have noted, social presence in online or other mediated environments refers to an
individuals ability to demonstrate her or his state of being in a virtual space and, as
Kehrwald (2008) put it, to signal to others her or his availabilityfor interpersonal transactions.
Because communication exchanges in online environments are essentially mediated by technol-
ogy of some kind, social presence may represent the degree to which experiences seem
unmediated. In the early literature on social presence, social psychologists used the phrase
degree of salience(or significance) of the other person in mediated communication as a
definitional starting point, and they stressed the capacity of the medium to transmit or convey
nonverbal information (e.g., Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976). Later scholars have noted the
increasing focus on relational aspects of social presencefor example, the perceived tangibi-
lityand proximityof others. Now, more and more, a focus on social presence is used in
relation to the affective connections and feelings of community that exist in mediated commu-
nication (Kehrwald, 2008; Lowenthal, 2009). Very recently, Sung and Mayer (2012) offered an
empirically derived five-facet dimensional definition of social presence that includes social
respect, social sharing, open-mindedness, social identity, and intimacy. These refinements are
one way in which clearer distinctions are being made between social presence and the related
concepts of cognitive presence and teaching presence in the COA model.
Definitions are also suggested by looking at measures of social presence. Reviews of several
of these measures (Cobb, 2009; Kreijins, Kirschner, Jochems, & van Buuren, 2011) suggest
social presence relates to comfort levels with respect to communication, perceptions of the sense
of community, the acknowledgment of otherspoints of view, and the absence of impersonal
discussionsall of which are critical aspects of social work education. Consistent across these
emerging definitions is that social presence in online environments is said to be performative.
That is, it is conveyed by visible activities such as posting, commenting, responding, and
participation in group and community activities, as we will see below. These are tangible,
emotive, and community-building activities that social work educators can embed in their online
classes to ensure quality interactions in cyberspace.
BUILDING AND MAINTAINING SOCIAL PRESENCE
Course Design
Aragon (2003) offered a plethora of excellent suggestions for enhancing social presence from a
course design perspective. He encouraged, for example, several strategies that have been success-
fully employed by the authors, including the development of video welcome and lesson overview
messages, and he encouraged students to offer up personal profiles with pictures. We note that course
management systems, often used in online course delivery such as Blackboard, have moved toward
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discussion-board platforms that allow threaded conversations to look more Facebook-likethat is,
each student comment is immediately physically juxtaposed to a headshot of that student, and all
comments are easily viewed in chronological order. Aragon also encouraged the use of collaborative
learning activities, including group projects or other assignments that get students to search for
content, share it, and then solicit reactions to it. Indeed, this type of activity is central to our online
courses where search, summarize, and shareassignments or weekly collaborative learning groups
are regularly used. In the search, summarize, and share assignments, students go to the Internet and
find compelling articles or websites on a certain theme or question and post them (with a brief
introduction) for their peers to view and offer their own emotional and intellectual reactions to it.
They also create group wiki pages on one course topic and then cross-view and critique each others
work. In the collaborative learning groups, students work in small groups (35 students) to respond,
on a weekly basis, to a series of discussion questions generated from the assigned readings. Social
presence is heightened by the nature of the questions, especially ones that call for case study analysis
and the sharing of related personal or professional experiences. There is the clear expectation
(indeed, requirement) that students interact with one another around these postings. Here are several
examples:
Take an inventory of your assumptions about what it is like to be 85 and older. What are
your biggest fears? What do you think would be the best part of reaching that age? Choose
one of the cases (Margaret Davis, Bina Patel, or Pete Mullin) at the beginning of chapter 10
and discuss how religion, spirituality, philosophy of life, culture, personality traits, plus
your own assumptions about what it is like to be 85 or older, would influence how you
would work with that individual at this life stage.
As we move from the focus on individuals to the focus on families, review the three film
clips on Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson and reflect back on the cognitive, moral, and
psychosocial stages of development. Share with your group members the following:
There has been much criticism about the Eurocentric nature of these three perspectives
of development. What is the basis of such criticism? Provide an informed opinion (i.e.,
use support from the literature) as to whether or not, and to what degree, you think these
developmental perspectives can advance economic and social justice and help us under-
stand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination.
Which of these stages has been the most helpful to you in understanding yourself?
Why? What in particular about these stages of development will be most helpful to you
in your practice as a social worker? Why?
Post here your good argument for or against prescription-writing privileges for social
workers. Feel free to cite the literature (use textbook and database searches for support)
and, if possible, draw from your experiences. Be sure not to denigrate other professions.
After you have posted your argument, let your colleagues argue the other side of the coin.
Be kind, and think critically.
Describe a situation, real or hypothetical, where you might feel justified in supporting
involuntary medication of a client. Can you also describe a challenging scenario in which
you would not support a coercive medication strategy? Reflect on any personal or profes-
sional values at play, or maybe even in conflict. Reflect on any connection between your
situation and the experiences that Dr. Kogut shared in his podcast.
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Instructors, according to Aragon (2003), should themselves contribute to discussion boards
frequently and thoughtfully, including sharing personal stories and experiences. One instructor
varies her posting patterns across the semester in an attempt to find balance between over-
involvement and underinvolvement, and another establishes an all-class discussion board for
ongoing instructorstudent interaction (see Table 1).
Components and Their Cues
Social presence has been behaviorally described as relating to a constellation of cuesin the
three general categories bulleted below (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976, p. 157). Here they
are, along with ways that students and instructors can build, convey, or detect these dimensions
of social presence in an online environment. Mediums may include discussion boards,
announcements, e-mails, and, where relevant, in content and lessons themselves. Our approach
to posting across these domains reflects an intentional effort to boost these cues of social
presence, as detailed by Lowenthal (2009) and others.
Affective responses such as the expression of emotion, humor, and self-disclosure as seen
in the use of paralanguagesuch as emoticons, exaggerated punctuations, unique
TABLE 1
Design Elements and Examples
Course Design Elements (Aragon, 2003) Examples From AuthorsCourse
Welcome video and overview messages: Encourage
students to offer personal profiles with pictures and
thoughtful participation throughout the semester
Be sure to introduce yourselves by posting a brief intro
and response to the Ice Breakeron the appropriate
discussion board. Upload a picture, or a brief audio or
video, if you like, by attaching a file.
Collaborative learning activities and group projects Search, summarize and share:Find a link and visit at
least three links from your colleagues.. .
Create group wiki pages: Your respective task is to work
together using the Groupsfeatures in Blackboard to
create an attractive, approachable wiki page at the
courses wiki site.
Group contract: Provide a rubric to help students anticipate
and work through issues encountered in group work.
Course synthesis: I will post a synthesis of the course. . .
and I will ask you to edit it. . . I would love for you to
make the course syllabus that I am writing real . . .when
you are all done with it, I will send it to you all so you
have a record of your course.
Thoughtful and frequent contributions to discussion
boards: Setting the tone, sharing personal stories and
experiences, giving context
Discussion via Blackboard will be a key avenue for
learning and sharing.
Im interested. . . this is my area. . .my dissertation was. . .
Im just coming back from my trip. . . where I was at the
Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education
conference. . .
. . .which happens to be my birthday.
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spellings; the explicit use of feeling words such as love, furious, anxious, perplexed; the
expression of values, beliefs, and attitudes; teasing, cajoling, or understatement; or any
expression of vulnerability or risk taking.
This is good advice beyond the course! LOL!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your work on the wikis! WOW! I am making my way
through all the links and videos and texts and learning a lot. Wonderful positive view of aging.
Hope you dont mind if I share it with some of my friends since all of us are aging!!
Open and interactive communication, such as asking probing questions; expressing agree-
ment or disagreement with others; giving affirmations or praise or encouragement; offering
advice on specific situations; directly referring to otherscomments or quoting others
posts; or offering self-reflections,
Can you actually see yourself developing and presenting psychoeducational content to clients?
Can you see yourself doing this in collaboration with other providers? With clients and families
themselves? What in the text readings or in the interview with Joe encourages you to do it and
what reservations do you have? Do you have any relevant personal or professional experiences to
share?
Claire, great follow-up with your group member Ashley. And great sharing of personal experi-
ences with rural school systems to bring perspective and insight to the education discussion.
Margaret, excellent response to Tierra. You captured the essence of the assignment when you
asked her to dig a little deeper re her uncles death and the issue around breakagein such strong
families.
Keep up the great work on the discussion boards. . .Feel free to affirm your classmates work as
well as to (lovingly) pose questions (rhetorical or otherwise) that will push them (and all of us) to
think critically.
Cohesive responses, which are responses that contribute to connecting and sustaining
relationships such as referring to others by name; offering personal greetings; referring to
group as us,”“we,or us; explicitly inviting feedback; or sharing interesting tangential
information or experiences.
Lauren, watching your video I was reminded of experiences and reflections that I have had over
the span of this course. Unfortunately, I have also worked with a case where there was misuse of
medication by another family member. However, in my case it was my client that was suspected
of taking the pain medications of a dying family member. It is really difficult to see and to respond
to as the case manager! I liked your suggestion of educating the whole family about the clients
medications and what they help treat for her and the intense pain that she experiences (student
comment).
I want to thank you for your hard work. ..thank you for your commitment to the online learning
process. . .to rely so heavily on your colleagues for discussion. (Instructor comment)
Yes, important reflections. I think we all just need to watch our (sometimes over) generalizations
sometimes. Be aware of the assumptions that they reflect and be able to identify how we came to
believe what we do. This is the essence of critical thinking. (Instructor comment)
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We need to be effective collaborators.. .we need to be an effective resource for clients.. .
(Instructor comment)
Thanks to all of you for this important thread. It tells me you all are indeed putting on the multiple
lens of partnership perspectiveand social work perspectiveand critical perspectiveand
social justice perspectiveand trying to figure out what you see when you look at populations
other than adults with serious mental illness through those lens, like kids who struggle with
emotional and behavioral problems, people with intellectual disabilities, and court-mandated
clients. How do we embrace those principles with different kinds of clients? This is good. This
is what we are supposed to do.:-)
Seaba and Kekwaletswe (2012) stressed the importance of considering how to foster student
participation with social presence online as vital to forming social connections in the learning
context(p. 129). Considering all of these components and cues can provide a framework for the
instructor to engage in strategic use of selfin role-modeling skills to support online social
presence in the learning environment.
Assessing Success
Online instructors can informally assess the level of social presence in their courses by posing a
series of questions to themselves or even to students. To what extent was communication
characterized by the cues discussed above? To what extent did students offer hints to their
identities beyond student? What were levels of sharing around their personal histories (their
culture, education, experience)? How much did you get to know the unique personality of
individual students (their attitudes, demeanor, and sense of humor)? How much sharing was
there around their personal circumstances (location, family situation, professional contexts)? To
what extent did students talk about what they were learning from each other? Did you as an
instructor offer or create these opportunities for social presence to thrive? How much student
appreciation for peer sharing was expressed? Instructor reflections on these questionsespe-
cially at midterm or at the end of semesterseem to quickly point to needed revisions for
crafting course activities or discussion board questions for future classes toward the nurturance
of social presence. Experience suggests that posting a summative question directly to students at
the end of the semester explicitly eliciting thoughts and feelings about course content and peer
exchanges can produce such a plethora of appreciative comments that may very well assuage
any skepticism about the power of online environment to support interpersonal communications.
Here is one such easily adaptable question used by the senior author to help cement the teaching
and learning of a semester online:
Post here any reflections you have about the most important aspects of your learning for the
semester. What really resonated for you? What do you think will be the most useful? What have
you learned about the power of sharing stories, experiences and resources with your peers and what
are the implications of that for your professional development? What will you do to continuing
learning and growing in knowledge and skills related to social work and psychopharmacology? How
can you maintain the values and philosophy around recovery and partnership that were integral to the
course?
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Challenges, Tensions, and Dilemmas
The most obvious challenge in building social presence in online education is
appreciating the tension between the need to set high academic standards and yet maintain
a milieu of a supportive, relaxed, and accepting community of learners. Expectations for
participation in online activities and discussion boards are typically quite high, and students
have to be held accountable for them, even though instructors may be trying to decrease
distance and share power with them, as suggested by the contemporary learning theories
discussed here. Issues of power and authority must be balanced with the values of commu-
nity and co-construction. Although evaluation and grading is inevitable, grading rubrics
developed as a class project, collaborative learning group reflection papers, and group
member or self-assessments are tools that can both strengthen social presence and help
balance the power differential.
The other challenge may be less obvious. Social presence is associated with the perception of
distanceor lack thereofbetween individuals in interaction; the reality is that no matter what,
there is spacebetween the participants. Space exists between participants in telephone and in
face-to-face communications as well as in online environments; physical presence is no assur-
ance that misinterpretations, miscommunications, or emotional distance will be absent. Because
social presence is not exclusive to online environments but a condition of all human interaction,
the concept also has relevance for more traditional classroom teaching and learning environ-
ments. In that space between participants, especially in social work, we understand that all
exchanges are subject to cognitive and emotional interpretations and meaning-making by us
humans, whose motivations and personal contexts are complicated and certainly not fully known
or likely even knowable. We do the best we can to reject isolationism and egocentricity in online
learning environments, and instead we embrace meaningful interaction and shared intellectual
community.
FUTURE RESEARCH AND CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
We have alluded to several avenues of future research on social presence throughout
this article: There is continuing research on the relationship of social presence to other
dimensions of teaching and learning, including cognitive presence and teaching presence;
there is research related to defining the cues and expanding the components of social
presence; there is research on the measurement of social presence. Future research might
examine which are the most effective or powerful techniques available to build social
presence. How much overlap is there between strategies that build social presence and
those that enhance student engagement and quality online education in general? Here the
efforts of the initiative called Quality Mattersmay be especially relevant. Quality Matters,
a respected national consortium of organizations and educators concerned with defining and
upholding quality in online education, has recently promulgated empirically derived stan-
dards of quality that they make available to their subscribers. Of note is that of their eight
major categories, two relate explicitly to student engagement (Legon & Runyon, 2007;
Quality Matters, 2013):
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Meaningful interaction between the instructor and students, among students, and between
students and course materials is employed to motivate students and foster intellectual
commitment and personal development.
Course navigation and the technology employed in the course foster student engagement
and ensure access to instructional materials and resources.
As these standards evolve throughout the years, we expect to see a more prominent place for
social presence given the growing database, discussed earlier in the article, on the positive
effects of social presence across several dimensions of learning.
However, we started the article with the argumentthattheconceptofsocialpresencewas
relevant for online social work education in particular because of its potential to truly
transform learning in ways especially pertinent to the learning needs of our students and
the professional demands of our discipline, which are centered in connective capabilities,
interpersonal exchange, shared problem-solving, and collaboration with peers and other
providers. Thus it is fair to conclude with suggestions for future research that speak to all
that. For example, how does social presence influence perceptions of the importance of peer
collaborationindecisionmakingineverydayreal-world practice, or on professional devel-
opment in general? What effect does social presence have on the deep appreciation of diverse
thought and experience? How does social presence relate to the meaning of use of selfby
students? How are the assets of social presence translated in to the development of practice
skills or excellence in practice? These are both fair and vital questions to pose in this
burgeoning area in the scholarship of teachingasweseektomorecloselyconnecthowwe
teachsocialworkwithwhatsocial workers actually do.
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... Social presence, which "refers to the extent to which persons are perceived to be real and are able to be authentically known and truly connected to others" (Bentley et al., 2015, p. 494), is considered by many to be a crucial concept in the realm of education (e.g., Aragon, 2003;Bentley et al., 2015;Cobb, 2009). First introduced by Short, Williams, and Christie (1976), social presence requires two concepts: immediacy and intimacy. ...
... Intimacy, likewise, involves both verbal and nonverbal actions, such as self-disclosure, physical proximity, and eye contact (Cobb, 2009). When these and similar actions are consistently demonstrated by an instructor in a teaching and learning environment, whether online or inperson, they tend to increase levels of student satisfaction (Bentley, Secret, & Cummings, 2015). ...
... For those less experienced in online teaching, it is possible that by focusing on technical rather than social dimensions of a course, they may unintentionally create the sort of climate that increases the risk of students feeling such emotions. It is suggested, however, that social presence is an effective way to help counter such feelings of disconnect (Bentley et al., 2015). ...
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The recent global shift to online teaching has thrust educators in all levels and forms of education into new roles and experiences. As many have little prior experience teaching online, it is possible that there are those who feel overwhelmed and as such focus on technical aspects of online education. By reviewing the concept of social presence in online education, this paper seeks to accomplish two tasks: first, to remind readers of the importance of interpersonal aspects of online education; and second, to recommend instructor-featured videos as an accessible and effective way of fostering social presence and helping students feel grounded, connected, and reassured.
... According to the collaborativeconstructivist assumptions upon which the Community of Inquiry framework is built, learning is a social experience (Garrison, 2016). So learning within a community of inquiry is essentially relational as learners express and explore the self, while also connecting with and learning from the other (Bentley, Secret, & Cummings, 2015). This relational element surfaces through social presence in a community of inquiry. ...
... Although the complexity to which it was entwined remains differentiated among researchers, the literature has overwhelmingly agreed that immediacy and intimacy have been essential factors related to social presence (Akcaoglu & Lee, 2016;Bentley et al., 2015;Gutierrez-Santiuste et al., 2015;Mykota, 2017). ...
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The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to understand how and why online higher education instructors and learners from the United States of America differed in their perceptions of social presence in the online classroom. Differing perceptions of the factors relevant to promoting social presence in the online classroom between instructors and learners can contribute to instructor and learner satisfaction and or dissatisfaction in the online learning environment.
... Although compassion and empathy are important values in social work practice, they are also critical in education (Bentley et al., 2015;Segal & Wagaman, 2017) and particularly vital in helping people navigate difficult times. In the classroom setting, compassion and empathy provide students with a nurturing learning space that can foster higher participation and build faculty-student connections that can positively impact students' academic success (Myers et al., 2019). ...
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The COVID-19 virus produced unprecedented challenges in the delivery of social work education nationwide. This study focused on the innovative approaches and transition efforts of one college of social work in the United States. The evaluation data of these efforts for six face-to-face and online Master of Social Work (MSW) courses and visual data from polls conducted to assess the socioemotional status of students in two online MSW courses were analyzed. The results suggest that students were highly satisfied with the transition efforts. Three themes emerged, suggesting the need to balance course instruction with teacher–student empathy, flexibility, and compassion toward students’ challenges. This study suggests future strategies that could be permanently implemented with a focus on social justice.
... This relationship-rich environment then becomes the place for building trust, collaboration, and learning. Research has shown that social presence is a powerful construct for online learning environments because of its strong influence on teaching and learning success (Bentley et al., 2015;Beuchot & Bullen, 2005) on students' satisfaction (Swan & Shih, 2005;Picciano, 2002), and on students' participation and engagement (Cui et al., 2013;Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). ...
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The purpose of this study was to examine whether teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence were significant predictors of course satisfaction in a blended learning course at a public university in Sabah, East Malaysia. The research design was based on the Community of Inquiry framework survey involving 32 third-year undergraduates majoring in TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language). Pearson r correlational analysis was used to determine the relationship between teaching presence, social presence, cognitive presence and course satisfaction. The findings of this study showed that both social presence and cognitive presence were significantly associated with course satisfaction, but not with teaching presence.
... Social work education programs should include ethical and practice standards that accompany the discipline, with inclusion of considerations for social media and technology. Additionally, research indicates that social work programs that provide educational services, such as classes, labs, and simulations through digital platforms, produce practitioners who are more diverse in their skill sets and comfortable in using technology in service delivery (Bentley et al., 2015;Fange et al., 2014). Social work is a scientific discipline and a practiced art. ...
... Opponents claim, often on ideological grounds rather than on the basis of evidence, that professional identities, practical skills, interpersonal relationships, and connection between teachers and students might not develop in an online environment (Moore et al., 2015). Others have suggested that the distance that exists between participants in online education might result in miscommunications, isolation, and emotional distance (Bentley et al., 2015;Davis et al., 2019). ...
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Online education has long been a controversial issue within the Australian social work community. Although technological advances have improved the quality of teaching substantially, scepticism and disbelief continue to exist. Despite the growing evidence base as to the effectiveness of online teaching, this tends to be overlooked. A scoping review of the literature was conducted to synthesise research conducted on online social work education to identify its effectiveness, potential, and challenges and to show whether online social work education will effectively prepare qualified social workers. This revealed that online education enhanced diversity and equity among social work students and students’ performances and satisfaction were similar for both online and on-campus students. Nevertheless, communication and engagement continue to be a challenge. IMPLICATIONS • Decisions on online education should be based on evidence of effectiveness rather than on the assumption that face-to-face teaching is superior. • Further research is needed to explore effectiveness of online education for different groups of students. • Employers’ experiences with social work graduates from online courses need further research. • Academics require support to tailor courses interactively and suitably for online education.
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Due to COVID-19, many higher education institutions abruptly transitioned to virtual instruction. For social work programs in the United States, this included supervised field education learning experiences. This shift allowed little time to adapt assessment outcome procedures. Considered the signature pedagogy in social work education, field enables students to integrate knowledge and practice skills in real practice situations. Multi-dimensional methods are used to assess this integration of classroom and field curricula. Program assessment methods can differ across social work education programs. Educational disruptions due to COVID-19 suggest a need to reimagine skill assessment in social work education. Due to the pandemic’s impact on skill assessment practices, this article discusses the ethical and implementation issues that should be considered in relation to field and classroom education. Adaptations to assessment practices to ensure evidence of student learning outcomes are explored.
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Nowadays, online learning has become a popular option for students because of its flexibility and more online programs are customized to students’ needs. Among all the factors that affect students’ online learning experience, social presence is worth much study considering the asynchronous nature of online learning and communication issues between online instructors and students. This paper reviews the origin, major definitions of social presence and research studies throughout history. Authors also document arguments of the optimal amount of social presence and provide instructional design suggestions for the development of online social presence. Further trends for social presence studies are also proposed at the end of the article.
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Social presence in online learning environments refers to the degree to which a learner feels personally connected with other students and the instructor in an online learning community. Based on a 19 item Online Social Presence Questionnaire (OSPQ) given to college students in two different online learning courses, a series of exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses consistently revealed five factors representing facets of social presence in online learning environments: social respect (e.g. receiving timely responses), social sharing (e.g., sharing information or expressing beliefs), open mind (e.g., expressing agreement or receiving positive feedback), social identity (e.g., being called by name), and intimacy (e.g., sharing personal experiences). Together, the five factors accounted for 58% of the variance and were based on 19 items. Although much previous research focuses on cognitive aspects of learning in online environments, understanding the role of the learner’s sense of presence may be particularly important in distance learning situations in which students and the instructor are physically separated.
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The purpose of this chapter is to explain the role and place of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework within the history of distance education. The review of the history reveals two important factors for changes in distance education: the effect of leading learning theories of each era and technological advancements. Distance education has moved from a behavioristic, teacher-centered, correspondence study concept, first to an independent learning model, and then to the current student-centered, socioconstructivist and community-based online learning. In this latest era, the post-modernist age, the CoI framework provides online instructors with a functional framework for designing and teaching their courses more effectively. A review of literature as shared in this chapter has also shown CoI to be a robust framework for research.
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to argue that an e‐collaboration environment, driven by awareness of social presence, may provide the just‐in‐time learning support needed by postgraduate students. The academic challenges faced by students may be alleviated if a correct electronic platform is provided for them to be able to consult with each other or their instructors, regardless of time or their locations. Thus, the paper conceptualises how awareness of social presence may help address the challenges by facilitating e‐collaboration of postgraduate students. Design/methodology/approach – The interpretive paradigm was followed in the study, where a university of technology, located in the city of Pretoria, South Africa, was used as a case study. Selective sampling, specifically purposive sampling was then used to select participants. This kind of sampling is suitable for qualitative case studies and focuses on sample selection based on relevance to the context and problem. Findings – The limited and inconsistent learning support hinders a smooth learning experience, often leading to delayed or incomplete learning tasks, including research works. The alternative for students is then to seek support from knowledgeable peers, who are often dispersed in varied geographical locations. Thus, it is important that the framework for e‐collaboration amongst postgraduate students be developed cognizant of the social presence awareness indicators that would help students to establish sense of togetherness during e‐collaboration. Originality/value – Social presence and e‐collaboration literature inadequately addresses both, with respect to graduate candidates. This paper looks at how awareness of social presence and context effects e‐collaboration.
Article
While the development of online education has been progressing rapidly, further research is needed on the experiences of students in online courses. One concept that has been explored in relation to the quality of the online learning experience is social presence, the degree to which a person is perceived as "real" in mediated communication. The purpose of this article is to discuss the findings regarding the Social Presence and Satisfaction instruments (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997) used in a recent research study focusing on online learning. Background literature regarding social presence and existing studies of this construct in relation to online learning are analyzed. Descriptive statistics for the Social Presence Scale and Satisfaction Scale are presented and show that students in online courses feel comfortable relating and interacting in the online environment, and are satisfied with online courses. Findings support the continued reliability and validity of these scales and encourage further use of these scales in educational research.