Weekly Teaching Note
Mar 12 2014
Learning Spaces - Social Presence and Interaction

Social presence is defined as the ability of participants in a community to project themselves, socially and emotionally, as real people through a medium of communication.” (Garrison and Anderson, 2003).

In thinking about a community of learners, let us tie in one of the major themes of Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory. Vygotsky’s theory asserts that “social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development.” In essence, social presence is a critical element in the learning process.

Social Presence and Interaction – the Instructor

Finding opportunities to communicate with your students can seem challenging at first, especially in the online environment. Think about all the ways in which you connect to your students in the face-to-face environment and then begin to translate these ideas to online. You will find many opportunities to engage and be present. Your role as the instructor in the online environment is every bit as important (if not more!) as it is in the face-to-face classroom.

Be thinking of ways in which you can design your course that supports these four types of interaction:

  1. student-to student (ss)
  2. student-to-teacher/teacher-to-student (ts)
  3. student-to-content (sc)
  4. student-to-the-world (sw)

Opportunities may include: sharing of personal stories and experiences, frequent feedback, and continuous conversation.

Sharing of Personal Stories and Experiences

  • The icebreaker/creating classroom community
    It is essential to set the climate from the start of class. In the online classroom, you can provide engaging opportunities for students to introduce themselves to you and their classmates.
    – A discussion forum where each student makes an introductory post and reply (ss) (ts)
    – A wiki where each student provides their name, major, hopes for the class, etc (ss) (ts)
    – A community bulletin board (try www.padlet.com) where each student posts their introduction on a class ‘wall’ (ss) (ts)
    – A collaborative Google slide presentation where each student takes a slide to introduce themselves with text, images and/or video (ss) (ts)
    – Ask students to submit introduction videos of themselves using their favorite mobile technology such as VoiceThread or Vine (ss) (ts) (sw)

  • Posting/Blogging – if you are asking your student to make blog posts, use this method to communicate key concepts, reminders, and current events with your students. (ss) (ts)

  • Office hours – encourage students to drop into your “virtual office” for extra help or simply to get better acquainted. (ss) (ts)

Frequent Feedback

  • The weekly email – emailing your students a weekly summary provides connections, summarizes the week, gives a preview of the next week, offers tips/suggestions, what went well, what could improve, allows you to point to exemplary student work, and encourages students to interact. (ts)
    – “After you post your YouTube URL to the Class Blog, remember to also paste the URL in the designated Blackboard assignment area so you can receive a grade.”
    – “The first quiz was a bit ‘rocky’, however, the technical issues have been fixed for the next quiz.”
    – “Take a look at the Weekly Check-in Video on our class blog.
  • Office hours – encourage each student to join you for office hours, just as you would in a face-to-face class.
    – Require each student to contact you at least once during the course. This can be via chat, video conferencing (Zoom) or any other method that supports synchronous conversation. (ts)

Continuous Conversation

  • Ask a Trivia question related to a concept to get students engaged. (ts) (ss) (sc)
  • Post a link in the discussion forum (or require your students to do so!) to a current event/article that relates to course content and ask for feedback. (ts) (ss) (sc)
  • Including opportunities for collaboration, such as group projects and team discussions, that ask students to explore the world around them. (ss) (sc) (sw)
  • Offer a poll where you ask students’ opinions on something related to the course/topic (this can be really fun!). (ts) (ss) (sw)

As the instructor, it is important to provide space and encouragement for continuous ‘conversation’ that supports cognitive processes. Model what you are asking your students to do, so be sure to add/post/create just as they are doing. Then, reply to students’ posts and welcome them individually to make that initial connection.


  • Bender, Tisha. (2012). Discussion-based online teaching to enhance student learning: Theory, practice, and assessment. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Garrison, D. R., and T. Anderson. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. New York: Routledge Falmer.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Kimberly Vincent-Layton
Humboldt State University

Interested in more conversation on this topic?

Join your colleagues and the Center for Teaching and Learning in an online workshop about learning spaces, beginning on March 24 and continuing, via email, for the next two weeks. Some of our NYIT faculty and staff will be joining in as ‘resource people’ and discussion facilitators providing their expertise and insight. Specific topics will include:

  • physical spaces: intentionally created spaces and unintentionally created spaces
  • virtual spaces: technologically enhanced, blended, fully online
  • social (intellectual and emotional) spaces
  • additional resources

The workshop is asynchronous, meaning that you can read the materials and reply to emails at your convenience. All you will need is a web browser and an email account. Here’s how it will work: On March 24, resources will become available on the web. Participants will then have a conversation by email for 1–2 weeks. Our goal is to bring faculty together from all our campuses, so we can explore the topic from all the cultural and societal frames of reference that comprise NYIT.

Please register to receive the link to materials and to be added to the email list. The registration link for the workshop is at: http://goo.gl/Xt8BpT

I hope to see you there!

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