Presence. Something to think about on many levels.
Here and now however I’m thinking about online presence. How present am I in the online classes I teach, in the CritLit2010 course I’m participating in this summer, on this blog, on my Amplify blog, on Twitter and so on? This is not a post about the Community of Inquiry Model – though that is certainly one way to look at presence and one I have used before. This is more of a personal look at presence.
What do I do and what are others doing when I really *feel* present in an online environment? What do I need to do for some critical mass of others to *feel* that I am present and an active participant in community? Here on this blog and other blogs I have had in the past it’s mainly about me taking the time and energy to post something substantial on a regular (at least weekly) basis. If I stray too long it’s very hard to come back round and re-engage. (Note to self for dissertation progress as well. ) I like getting comments but I’ve never had a lot of comments on a blog and I don’t tend to comment on others’ blogs. It’s just not a conversational place for me.
When you go to a class – either physically or in a synchronous online setting – you interact and get feedback and stimulation immediately. There has been much written about the rapid give-and-take of synchronous meetings versus the time delay of asynchronous ones. It’s the whole delayed gratification issue. You send something out and by the time someone replies you may or may not have forgotten where your train of thought was going. However, the anytime-anywhere flexibility of asynchronous is what attracts many people to online classes and communities in the first place. And there is a line between being an active presence in a community/class and feeling tied to it 24/7. I have spoken with faculty who are present in their online courses 7 days a week because they want to be and those who are because they feel they *have* to be and those who state up front that they will only check in the course 4 or 5 days a week and that specifically excludes weekends and holidays.
I was involved in a discussion recently about the minimum size for an online class to run and the real crux of the matter was how many people does it take to carry on a reasonably-paced conversation to maintain interest and motivation for learning? Of course it depends entirely on how active the participants are but since there is no way of knowing that in advance you have to pick a number and live with it. (we picked 8.) In the CritLit2010 class, there is not a lot of discussion going on in the course Moodle site but there is a lot of posting going on outside on blogs, Twitter, etc. I have blogged but haven’t participated in any discussion so I don’t really feel like I have a presence in the course yet.
I had another dissertation interview yesterday and we talked a bit about hand grading papers versus typing in comments. Is part of “presence” really about, as Virginia Shea would say, remembering that (normally) every user ID in an online setting is a real, live human? I hand wrote comments for one assignment this past spring, scanned them in and uploaded them to the course. It made me feel more present but does it help the students? Most of the faculty I have interviewed record audio or video for their classes. Some studies have found that students connected more to online classes if they could see the instructor. In a smaller-enrollment graduate class (as opposed to a 50+ roster undergrad class) I wonder about the possibility and practicality of having students record audio or video on a regular basis? It would certainly increase my perception of their presence but it would also increase the amount of time it would take to process their work – both for me and for the other students. Reading is faster than listening. Are the trade-offs worth it? Is file size still an issue?
I could go off on a tangent about legitimate peripheral participation here but this is long and rambling enough so I’ll save that for another day.
If you’ve actually read through this far please leave a comment so I know someone is present 🙂