Monday, October 22, 2012

Reflections on Social Presence in the Online Classroom.

This is based on the articles by Steven R. Aragon, “Creating Social Presence in Online Environments,” and Brandi Scollins-Mantha, “Cultivating Social Presence in the Online Learning Classroom:  A Literature Review with Recommendations for Practice.”  This was part of a professional development activity at the college.

To begin with two points to consider
(1) there is no right or wrong when it comes to establishing social presence in your online classroom (just as there is no absolute right or wrong to the same in the face-to-face classroom)
(2) your selection of what techniques re social presence to use/not use will depend on your discipline, your specific course goals and objectives and your own personality
(3) You can always change things!

A working definition of social presence:
the establishment of a connection/relationship with a student so that learning takes place (agreed, that’s a bit on the high and mighty side).  Here is another way of possible saying it; a instructor must create an atmosphere of engaged learning, meaning that he is engaged with the student and the student with the material and the instructor. (I think that engagement factor is absent from a lot of online courses.)

Now that social presence can be achieved/attempted in a whole lot of different ways.  I happen to focus on transferring the classroom’s one-on-one conversation to the online environment. I choose not to focus on some other aspects of the social presence definition.

Some factors:
(1) Start with good design of course material in a variety of formats (text, images, audio, video) to capture different learning styles.  That material should be your own content as much as possible (not publisher-provided Powerpoint slides).  That immediately establishes a presence in your course.
(1a) Again, everything begins with the design of your course.  “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage” (in the online classroom, an instructor really needs to be both.  You need to demonstrate to students that you are a master of the course content, and that you can guide them through the course.)
(2) Quick turnaround with communication to students (Returning their emails once a week quickly proves to students that you are not engaged and really don’t care about their learning).
(2a) Send them reminders often with hints on how to approach difficult assignments.
(3) Make tech support a priority (This is often a problem at NVCC, although we are getting better about it; tech problems can really diminish student enthusiasm)
(4) While being nice and interested in student hobbies, etc, is great, you cannot let that alter the way that you grade and assess student learning.
(5) Be aware of how much personal information you provide to students, and be aware of how much you expect students to share with other students.  That is just the world we live in.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Does anybody really know anything about educational reform?

We've got basically open enrollment at the community college level.  Students have to take English, reading and math placement tests, but results on those tests only really apply to English, reading and math courses.  So what about the students who enroll in a Western Civ survey courses that has appropriate college-level reading and writing skill levels, while the students possess a sixth-grade reading level and some sub-college writing ability?  What does that mean re the demand for "student success?"