THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER IN CREATING SOCIAL PRESENCE IN ONLINE DISCUSSION
As asynchronous online discussion is increasingly used to support traditional teaching methods, several studies highlight the significance of social presence for online learning. Based on constructivist models of learning, it is suggested that effective online discussion is supported by the quality as well as the frequency of responses. While the social and affective climate of a group, known as ‘social presence’, has been explored in relation to student discourse, the role of the teacher in creating social presence is relatively unexplored. The present study hypothesizes that frequency and type of teacher participation is directly related to overall social presence density. Thus, building on previous studies of social presence and teacher presence in computer-mediated learning contexts, this study examines the rates and social functions of teacher postings to an online discussion group. The study examines social cues in the text messages posted by two cohorts of university students and their lecturer over two consecutive semesters. Findings indicate a correlational rather than a causal link between teacher participation and social presence. Moreover, other variables such as group size, student use of discussion software and student attitude also contribute to the overall quality of online discussion. The study concludes that increased knowledge and understanding of social presence in online settings can help educators develop strategies for supporting online discussion.