Humanizing advanced communication online writing instruction: developing social presence to communicate, collaborate, and connect

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McCool, Lynn
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Barbara J. Blakely
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The Department of English seeks to provide all university students with the skills of effective communication and critical thinking, as well as imparting knowledge of literature, creative writing, linguistics, speech and technical communication to students within and outside of the department.

The Department of English and Speech was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Department of English and the Department of Public Speaking. In 1971 its name changed to the Department of English.

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  • Department of English and Speech (1939-1971)

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Online writing instruction comes with its own peculiar set of affordances and constraints. One affordance is the flexible nature of learning “anytime, anywhere” while an important constraint (that affects both instructors and students) is transactional distance—the geographical, psychological and emotional distance that occurs when students learn in online environments (Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 1999; Moore, 2013). Prior researchers have responded to transactional distance and its influence on student learning and satisfaction by developing the Community of Inquiry Framework (Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 1999; Garrison and Arbaugh, 2007). This instructional design model addresses the non-geographical distances that affect the communication of both instructors and students by establishing three “presences” in the online learning environment (OLE): cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence.

This research project looks at just one of these—social presence—in the advanced communication online writing course to determine how it influences instructors’ and students’ abilities to construct knowledge and to connect within the advanced communication course, and as Johnson-Eilola (1998, 2005) alludes, to a larger network beyond the course itself. In the context of this project, social presence is defined as the “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g. the course of study), and communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop interpersonal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison 2010). Social presence is most closely connected to an individual’s ability to form and maintain effective individual and team relationships, both of which are necessary components to learning in a collaborative environment focused on solving real-world communication problems.

Because online writing instruction occurs online and is mediated in virtual spaces, instructors often do not consider the social nature of learning perhaps in the same way that they do in face-to-face classrooms. This research study aims to examine the social nature of learning within the advanced communication online writing course (AC-OWC) to determine how instructors and students create, promote, and maintain social presence within the confines of the course and the community of inquiry found therein.

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Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2016