Fostering social presence through task design

Hauck, Mirjam and Warnecke, Sylvia (2012). Fostering social presence through task design. Fremdsprachen und Hochschule, 85(2) pp. 175–200.

Abstract

In 2010 the Open University’s (OU) Department of Languages launched its first fully online module, English for academic purposes (EAP). To prepare the tutors for teaching in an online only context a 6-week training programme - also fully online - was set up.

Drawing on the materials developed for the programme we will illustrate the potential impact of task design on the establishment of social presence (SP) among the participants. We shall also verify how this in turn determines the success of the online learning experience.

Our analysis is an exploration of the dynamics among participants as a result of their task performances with a particular focus on SP. It is based on postings to the tutor training forum, the tutor group fora (groups of learners and their respective tutors) and two post training synchronous debriefing and evaluation sessions.

The study suggests that social presence (SP) as defined by Kehrwald (2008), namely the ability of the individual to demonstrate his/her availability for and willingness to participate in interaction, is the central driving force for successful online communities of inquiry (CoI) as understood by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000). We conceptualise both the tutors who took part in the training and the student groups with whom they subsequently embarked on the EAP online journey as such CoIs. However, drawing on our data and Morgan’s (2011) critique of Garrison et al. (2000) we will argue for a fundamental re-consideration of the CoI's tripartite approach which separates social presence from cognitive and teaching presence. Instead, we propose Galley’s (2010) “community indicators” as an alternative framework for online education in general and CALL in particular with SP as the guiding principle for material and task design for both (language) teaching and learning and teacher education purposes. This approach seems more apt to promote the democratic, learner-centred, and identity building processes online which the new electronic media facilitate (Warschauer, 1999).

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