Annotation of “Building modern social presence: A review of social presence theory and its instructional design implications for future trends” (2013)

Annotation of “Building modern social presence: A review of social presence theory and its instructional design implications for future trends” (2013) 

The purpose of Cui, et al.’s article is to present an overview of the origin of social presence theory, how the definition of this concept has changed, and how the concept can be applied to research moving forward. Originally, social presence theory (SPT) began as a psychological theory for understanding interpersonal interaction. The original concept of SPT began as “immediacy” or the “communication behaviors that enhance closeness to nonverbal interaction” (p.662). The concept focused largely on how nonverbal cues (eye contact and the like) would “shift” to maintain a sense of equilibrium needed for intimacy in a relationship. When applied to technology, social presence became more about an individual’s perception of the “real” person on the other end, figuratively speaking, the other side of the screen. Researchers (Argyle and Dean 1965; Short, et al. 1976) looked at the overlap of the intimate nonverbal and verbal elements of communication as related to social presence and found that immediacy enhances social presence. This is relevant finding for those teaching online as the application of immediacy (using nonverbal and verbal cues by an instructor) can enhance the learner’s perception, or that “real” quality of the facilitator.

Cui, et al’s review continues by presenting a revised definition of social presence that focuses more on the medium. They cite the research of Gunawardena (1995) as breaking ground with the application of SPT to CMC where it is the responsibility of the facilitator to create a “sense of community.” Her findings indicate that the choices made by the facilitator are what will impact the learner’s perceptions of social presence, which should be increased to enhance the level of interaction (Tu and McIsaac 2002). Later research by Tu and McIsaac found that media like emoticons could help learners to perceive nonverbal. The review also includes aspects of social presence related to how the phenomenon fluctuated (p.656), the use of social presence to create context (p.667), and how it is used to create a “comfortable social climate.” This last point was extended in early 2000s to examine a cross-section in which cognitive, social, and teaching presence where the three elements were necessary for deep learning to occur. This for me was a surprising advancement in the application of social presence because I had thought that social presence and teaching presence were essentially the same construct. Further investigation is needed to determine why and how they are not.

After a lengthy chronological review of social presence studies, Cui, et al. present a discussion of how online social presence might impact instructional design. The first application discussed is the use of the ADDIE model, which is a five-phase design that enhances student satisfaction through online experiences. Other elements like user interface, class size, course activities (PowerPoints, audio/video mini-lectures) and discussion boards are also discussed as having significant implications on social presence. Additional factors like timeliness of instructor responses, student support, and proper student orientation also enhance social presence. The evaluation of social presence is also important in creating a strong design. Because social contexts vary, it is important to realize with methods are working within that specific context. The authors assert that this can be ascertained by evaluating a great many types of student work—final papers, discussion posts, weekly assignments, and presentations—but the authors do not recommend a method of assessment that would help to evaluate these artifacts, so this may be another area for investigation.

Overall, Cui et al.’s review of social presence seems more comprehensive with regard to the definition of social presence, but it does not follow through with the promise it makes in its title. While there are some mentions of the need to consider social presence as an aspect of instructional design, the application of social presence is not highlighted as well as it could be. This article is significant in terms of its historical review of the concept, but there is little to take away for the facilitator who struggles to develop social presence in their online classroom. 

Cui, Guoqiang, Lockee, Barbara, & Meng, Cuiqing. (2013). Building modern online social presence: A review of social presence theory and its instructional design implications for future trends. Education and Information Technologies18(4), 661–685.

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