The nature and role of social presence in audiographic, synchronous online language learning contexts

Fayram, Joanna (2017). The nature and role of social presence in audiographic, synchronous online language learning contexts. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study explores social presence (SP) and its nature and role in online language tutorials at the Open University. My research questions ask how SP is perceived to influence language learning and what factors impact on the projection of SP from the learner perspective. I also ask if these perceptions are evidenced through observed aspects of tutor and learner participation.

Within the field of computer-mediated communication (CMC), SP theory has evolved from a view of SP as a product of a technological medium to an understanding of the impact of social interaction on its development and projection. Research studies in CMC highlight the importance of SP but, as yet, the links between SP and online language learning have not been fully explored.

Whereas socio-cultural theory provides a framework for my understanding of the importance of social interaction in learning, I draw on the field of multimodality to gain insight into the meaning-making potential of multimodal environments. I also draw on the Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison et al., 2000) to provide both a theory and methodology for my study of SP.

My principal finding is that positive SP is important in online language learning, not only to support and facilitate language interaction but also as a necessary aspect of communication in language learning. However, the generation and impact of SP are contingent upon factors related to individual learner differences and emotional responses, and to its interplay with teaching presence and ‘language learning presence’, which is a new concept. SP must always be understood in relation to the primary mediating variables of the subject area and online learning environment.

The pedagogical relevance of my study is located in insights into the nature and role of SP in online language learning, derived from an integrated methodology, involving both student perspectives and my observations of online interaction.

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