It feels like ages since I have written here. What have I been doing? Oh right, there’s been a pandemic. My whole life slowed to an unexpected halt last spring, and I have been kind of floating along since.
However, it is time to refocus on the task at hand. I am so grateful to announce it is time to do a dissertation!!! WHOOHOO!! I know it seems strange to cheer on what seems like a long and arduous task, but this moment also marks the end of this phase of my life. I am not one to live by regret so that empowers me to go, with full gusto, into the moment that is this semester.
My topic for this momentous occasion is social presence in online learning. While that may sound tedious and boring, let me describe what it really means to me. You know when you are in a group of people, whether it is friends, family, a class, a dinner, any group setting really, and there is this atmosphere of equality, synchronicity, harmony, or like an all is right in the world moment? Or maybe: have you ever been in a discussion or debate and there was a fair give and take of ideas, opinions, information exchanged and you walk away feeling more alive than you had before you started the encounter? Well, I think somewhere in those moments of being is where social presence lies. It is this intangible presence that seems to link those engaged with something more. In a classroom, this presence can make or break a lesson for teachers, but when it really comes into being, social presence creates this life in learning that is irreplaceable and influential for an indefinite amount of time. I know this because I am both a teacher and a student. I have had these experiences on both sides of the spectrum. I know there is something to it, something more.
While so far this is all anecdotal, my research has also shown some of my experience to be similar to others in the same position. The literature echoes what I have said as well: the vague idea of social presence has yet to be clearly defined. According to Lowenthal & Snelson (2017), researchers do not use the same definition for this term, for this experience.
And now, with the jolt in the education world that has forced us all into a digital space, that experience of equality, synchronicity, harmony has been absent. With the unplanned moved to the virtual classroom, there has definitely been something missing because students are failing and teachers are dissatisfied. The future of education is unclear. This leaves me wondering if social presence couldn’t be a bridge from what has been to what can be in the digital classroom? In order to find out, we must first have a clear and coordinated understanding of what it means so that we can ultimately create it in a digital space.
Since the term “social presence” is still unclear in the literature, it makes sense to pursue this as my path for a dissertation. However, I would like edit the literature review I have so far. I think it would make this study more relevant to eliminate older studies and add any new studies published in light of the pandemic. Focusing on the last 10 years would be ideal since the “digital classroom” of today is vastly different than the one from the 1990s.
As far as how this study is going to work, that is up for design adjustments. Ideally, I’d like to apply a mixed-methods approach, utilizing both a quantitative survey as well as a qualitative follow-up interview. This is probably my biggest area of concern. I need to do more research on the best quantitative approach for this study as well as for the qualitative approach. I have a study in mind already to imitate for the qualitative portion, but then I need to know what method I will follow for data analysis. I wholeheartedly believe this is a relevant study if this topic is to warrant further research. Defining our terms is imperative. However, I don’t want to ruin its credibility by not having enough support in the methods section.
So, here we go!