Establishing Social Presence for an Engaging Online Teaching and Learning Experience
Unlike face-to-face classes where physical presence is a given, the lack of “real” interpersonal connections to establish a strong social presence in online teaching and learning experience affects student learning. Students tend to feel isolated and disengaged. This paper explores how I sought to create a supportive environment for my students reading a critical thinking and communication module for community leadership during an Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) experience amid the pandemic last year in 2020. Using the Community of Inquiry framework as a lens to reflect on how well I established social presence in the online environment, I thematically analysed student qualitative feedback on their learning experiences. This investigation also serves as an inquiry into the effectiveness of the dialogic scaffolding pedagogical framework I adopted for the module. Moreover, this study compliments a reflection on the impact of my teaching philosophy that students are social learners before they become independent learners. I believe that students learn not as isolated beings, but as active members of a community; what they learn and how they make sense of knowledge depends on the social context in which they learn. The findings revealed the effectiveness of the application of dialogic scaffolding principles, which focuses on the orchestration of talk to scaffold student learning and co-construct understanding. With a socio-constructivist view of teaching, many tutors could consider their classes of students as communities of participants in learning. The paper concludes with recommendations for strategies that tutors can adopt to establish a supportive environment for physically separated communities of learners.