Fostering Social Presence in Online Courses

Encouraging Students to Engage with Each Other in Online Discussions

Social Presence: Helping Students Build Independent Relationships

In the past few years, I've noticed that digital technologies both help and hinder interpersonal communications in the face-to-face classroom.  When I walk in before the start of class, many of my students are on their phones.  They're messaging friends or following status updates or reading the news — on other words, engaging with the larger community outside my classroom.

This seems like negative, but it's not.  It's a sign of the potential that these tools offer for connecting with students outside the physical space of a classroom.  But emphasis on potential: it takes time and strategy to not only use these tools effectively, but to encourage our students to use these tools independently to build relationships with each other.

Lowenthal focuses on building relationships and authenticity within online courses.  He explains the Community of Inquiry Model, built upon three components:

Key Strategies for Building Social Presence

Here are some key techniques to encourage students to talk with each other:

When Social Presence Failed: A Story of an Online Writing Course

When I was younger, I took online creative writing courses.  They were helpful in getting me to write and teaching good technique, but one of these courses seriously stung.  Though the instructor and a well-meaning classmate wanted to offer helpful advice, they inadvertently sent the message that I wasn't a real writer.

Inspiring Creativity: The Rule of "Yes"

Part of fostering social presence involves helping each student feel confident.  Even as you teach your students new concepts, even as you guide them to change their habits as writers and researchers, you need to reassure each member of your class that they already have valid ideas.  And they do — every student in your class will have years of experiences to share, plus a wide variety of past courses.  Our students have dreams and goals and hopes.