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Monday, January 6, 2014

An Evaluation of Social Connectedness Online


By Dr Andree Swanson

Picture by Dr. Andree Swanson
Communicating in the online learning environment is difficult at best.  To feel connected to faculty and fellow students is almost impossible.  Interpersonal exchanges are “more difficult for online students to engage in the kinds of collaborative peer interactions that often result in the construction of meaning and achievement of learning goals” (Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2012, p. 347).  Slagter van Tryon and Bishop (2006) have been studying the topic of social connectivity as it relates to student engagement and interaction, and coined the phrase e-connectivity (e-mmediacy).  Swanson, Hutkin, Babb, and Howell (2010) defined as:  “E-mmediacy or e-connectivity is the feelings or believing of social connectedness that students and faculty get through the technologically enhanced online learning environment (Slagter van Tyson, 2007; Slagter van Tyson & Bishop, 2006)” (p. 17).

Before this current study, there was no validated instruments to measure e-connectivity, so Slagter van Tryon and Bishop “designed and development the Social Perceptions in Learning Contexts Instrument (SPLCI)” (p. 348).  The two researchers developed a three-step process to create this instrument.  Phase 1 was involved creating an initial instrument based on their extensive literature review and their previous research on the topic of e-immediacy.  Phase 2 incorporated experts to review and recommend revisions.  In this phase, the researchers tested the reliability and validity of the evolving instrument.  In Phase 3, the final stage involved more analysis and revision, thus resulting in the final assessment tool.

Slagter van Tryon and Bishop and the experts identified three themes that emerged.  To overcome e-connectivity or e-mmediacy in a distance education classroom, one must: 1) increase interactions, 2) provide “comprehensive technical support”, and, 3) provide persistent follow-up (p. 350).  “When students feel e-mmediacy it appears that valuable cognitive resources that might be wasted on inefficient social information processing can be allocated, instead, to cognitive information processing and the learning goals of the course” (Slagter van Tryon and Bishop, p. 352).  Personally, I have found this to be the case in classes where there is increased interaction in the online classroom. 

After creating an in-depth instrument, the researchers tried it on a small pilot study with a sample size of 50.  Although, this was one of the limitations of the study, they concluded that this study was beneficial and further research should be done.  Both Slagter van Tryon and Bishop and Fisher, Durrance, and Unruh (2003) recommend further research into what enhances the learning experience for students by increasing e-connectivity in the online environment.

This study builds on my own dissertation which revealed the best practices for e-connectivity in online courses. 

In a review of contemporary literature, research revealed that students believe they cannot connect with their instructors in online classrooms (Hughes, Ventura, & Dando, 2007; Stichter, Lewis, Richter, Johnson, & Bradley, 2006).  Faculty, administrators, curriculum designers, and student advisors in institutions that offer online programs do not adequately address the social and psychological connectivity needs of students (DeShields, Kara, & Kaynak, 2005). This lack of attention to the social and affective needs has a negative effect on learner satisfaction and retention (Bonk, 2002; Melrose & Bergeron, 2006; Moody, 2004; Simpson, 2004; Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2006).  Specific guidance on social interaction in the proprietary online classroom does not exist.  Because of the absence of guidance, training on e-connectivity is lacking for online faculty and students' satisfaction is decreased leading to a higher attrition rate (Dow, 2008; Drouin, 2008; Herbert, 2006; Scollins-Mantha, 2008).

By using Bloom's Taxonomy as a foundation for the overall review, six emerging themes appeared:

Cognitive
}  Show relevance to students.

Affective
}  Establish e-connectivity.
}  Instructor presence.
}  Positive communication.
}  Ability to be open to social networking.

Psychomotor
}  Use of technologies to e-connect. (Swanson, 2011, p. 1)

As this compares to Slagter van Tryon and Bishop’s themes, there is a relationship.

Table 1
Comparison of Swanson et al.’s Themes as Compared to Slagter van Tryon and Bishop’s Themes
Swanson et al.’s Themes
Slagter van Tryon and Bishop’s Themes
Cognitive
}  Show relevance to students.

Affective
}  Establish e-connectivity.
}  Instructor presence.
}  Positive communication.
}  Ability to be open to social networking.
Increase interactions

Provide persistent follow-up
Psychomotor
}  Use of technologies to e-connect.
Provide comprehensive technical support

Perhaps in the future, the SPLCI can be used to assess your online classroom.  Interested in giving this a try?

References

Fisher, K. E., Durrance, J.C., Unruh, K. T. (2003). Information communities: Characteristics gleaned from studies of three online networks. Proceedings of the ASSIST Annual Meeting, 40, 298-305.

Slagter van Tryon, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2012). Evaluating social connectedness online: The design and development of the Social Perceptions in Learning Contexts Instrument. Distance Education, 33(3), 347-364.

Slagter van Tryon, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2006). Identifying “e-mmediacy” strategies for web-based instruction: A Delphi study. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7(1), 49-63. Retrieved from ProQuest database.

Swanson, A. C. (2011, August). Six themes of e-connectivity in online courses. e-Poster research session, 27th Annual Distance Learning Conference, Madison, WI. Retrieved from University of Madison, WI website: http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/Resource_library/proceedings/46810_2011.pdf

Swanson, A., Hutkin, R., Babb, D., & Howell, S. (2010, Sep). Establishing the best practices for social interaction and e-connectivity in online higher education classes. Doctoral dissertation, University of Phoenix, Arizona. Publication Number: 3525517. Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/3525517.pdf

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