“THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR STORY...” SOCIAL PRESENCE AND LEARNING IN ONLINE DISCUSSION GROUPS
In the last decade, several studies have highlighted the role of social interaction in online communities of inquiry. Based on constructivist models of learning, effective online discussion is indicated by the quality of responses as well as frequency. Thus, building on previous studies of learning in computer mediated communication contexts, this study examines the use of textual cues in messages posted to online discussion groups as a way to project social presence. The present study hypothesizes that the depth of social presence in these online discussion groups is not only an indicator of the participation and attitude towards learning, but also provides an objective measure of course learning outcomes. The study examines messages posted by two cohorts of students and their lecturer over two consecutive semesters. Findings suggest that depth of social presence is affected by several variables such as use of software, lecturer response and group size. The study argues that knowledge and understanding of social presence in online communication can help educators in developing and supporting online discussion groups more effectively.