Social presence: What is it? How do we measure it?

Lowenthal, P. R. (2012). Social presence: What is it? How do we measure it? (Doctoral dissertation). University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado.


Social presence theory is a central concept in online learning. Hundreds of studies have investigated social presence and online learning. However, despite the continued interest in social presence and online learning, many questions remain about the nature and development of social presence. Part of this might be due to the fact that the majority of past research has focused on students’ perceptions of social presence rather than on how students actually establish their social presence in online learning environments. Using the Community of Inquiry Framework, this study explores how social presence manifests in a fully asynchronous online course in order to help instructional designers and faculty understand how to intentionally design opportunities for students to establish and maintain their social presence. This study employs a mixed-methods approach using word count, content analysis, and constant-comparison analysis to examine threaded discussions in a totally online graduate education course. The results of this study suggest that social presence is more complicated than previously imagined and that situational variables such as group size, instructional task, and previous relationships might influence how social presence is established and maintained in threaded discussions in a fully online course.

Keywords: Social Presence, Online Learning, Community of Inquiry, CoI, Mixed Methods