Investigating the Power of Presence: Using Online Communities to Support New Academic Faculty

J. Yorke, I. Hametz, M. Pannell, and T. Rees (UK)


Web-based education; online discussion; social presence.


Every year approximately 70 academic colleagues embark on an accredited teacher development programme at the University of Plymouth. The programme is offered in both part time and intensive formats, both of which make use of asynchronous text web-based online discussion groups. The standard version sandwiches online activities between sessions, whilst the intensive programme schedules the online activities after the series of taught sessions. Our experience to date suggests that the quality of discussion and overall completion rates are far higher for the version of the programme that interpolates online activities with taught sessions. One explanation that has been offered for this phenomenon encompasses the development of communities of practice and the social aspects of learning online. This paper describes work in progress to investigate the role that cognitive, teaching and social `presence' plays in supporting the development of critical inquiry and acquisition of knowledge. We propose to use content analysis of transcripts of online discussions to examine the extent to which this is facilitated by cognitive, teaching and social presence.

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