Social Presence in Two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Multiple Case Study

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The purpose of this study was to explore the role social presence plays within two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by two American institutions of higher education through the Canvas and Ed.X learning software consortia. Social presence is one of three presences that comprise Garrison and colleagues’ Community of Inquiry (CoI) conceptual framework (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000; Garrison, 2013). Descriptive multiple case study methodology was used for the study, with data collected through surveys, individual interviews, focus group interviews, and discussion board postings. Findings show that, while participants in MOOCs felt comfortable expressing themselves “as real people” (a key indicator of social presence), the majority did not view themselves as being part of a community of learners within their respective courses. Overall, in both MOOCs, participants experienced social presence least among the three CoI presences. Participants in both MOOCs experienced social presence as it helped them to realize learning objectives (i.e., to successfully complete their respective courses). Social presence played a supportive role to cognitive presence. Factors affecting social presence included participants’ ability and/or willingness to direct their own learning, types of available technology, availability of time, and depth of course content. There were three implications for practice for MOOC designers and facilitators. The first implication is that leveraging students’ personal interests through course activities and content can help enhance social presence. The second implication is that making more varied use of the features and functionality of learning management software can afford students additional and better opportunities for social interaction. The third implication is that encouraging greater amounts and quality of collaboration through the design of assignments and other assessment and evaluation items can lead to improved social presence, and an enhanced educational experience overall. Further MOOC research should address different kinds of MOOCs than were studied as part of this research, and a greater number of MOOCs, and using different research methodologies, and including greater amounts of MOOC designer and instructor perspectives. Further research on different elements of the CoI model and the areas of overlap among the three CoI presences within MOOCs is also warranted.
Education--Curriculum and Instruction, Education--Higher, Education--Technology
Stranach, M. (2017). Social Presence in Two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Multiple Case Study (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/27816