Applying Research on Presence to Guide Online Discussions

Author Information
Author(s): 
Bill Pelz
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Herkimer County Community College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Herkimer County Community College's practice builds on research on social, cognitive and teaching presence in online course discussions by creating a rubric for guiding discussion and grading student postings.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Creates a rubric for guiding discussion and grading student postings.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
How does this practice relate to pillars?: 


Recent research in the field of online learning suggests that discussion responses that add value to a discussion fall into one or more of three categories: Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, or Teaching Presence. In particular, the inclusion of indicators of all three kinds of presence in discussion fosters the building of community in online courses. Bill Pelz at Herkimer County Community College has adapted this research to create rubrics for guiding student discussion. In his courses, only discussion postings that fall into one of the three categories receive points toward grades. The highest grades for discussion (which is a major component of final grades) will be given to students who include all three kinds of presence in their questions and responses. What follows is excerpted from his directions to students:

Social Presence is the ability of participants in an online course to project their personal characteristics into the online community of learning - to present themselves as "real people." There are at least three forms of social presence:

Affective - The expression of emotion, feelings, and mood.
Interactive - Evidence that you are reading, attending, understanding, thinking about other's responses.
Cohesive - Responses that build and sustain a sense of 'belongingness,' group commitment, or common goals and objectives.

It is important to establish a community of learning in an online course. One way to facilitate this is to provide social reinforcement to your fellow students. When you agree or disagree with what another student writes, you are providing such feedback. When you respond with an expression of emotion, it can also demonstrate social presence. Responses which provide this type of feedback will receive 0, 1 or 2 points, depending on the quality, extent, and frequency they occur. For example, a student who says "I agree" may get a point the first time, but no points subsequently.

Cognitive Presence is the extent to which students are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained discourse (discussion) in a community of inquiry. Cognitive presence can be demonstrated by introducing factual, conceptual, and theoretical knowledge into the discussion. The value of such a response will depend upon the source, clarity, accuracy and comprehensiveness of the knowledge. Points will be awarded for cognitive presence as follows:

0 points: The post adds no academic value to the discussion; no new information is presented.
1 point : The post contains at least one usable fact or piece of information, however, the fact or information is available from the textbook.
2 points: The post contains at least one usable fact or piece of information not available from the textbook.
3 points: The post makes a substantial academic contribution; material is included that is not available just by reading the textbook and some issue or concept is clarified.
4 points: The post contains documented information that contributes greatly to the understanding of some issue under discussion; the new information is explained and applied such that the reader gains insight into the material being studied.

Teaching Presence is the facilitation and direction of cognitive and social process for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. There are two major ways students can add teaching presence to a discussion:

By facilitating the discussion

  • Identifying areas of agreement and disagreement
  • Seeking to reach consensus / understanding
  • Encouraging, acknowledging and reinforcing student contributions
  • Setting a climate for learning
  • Drawing in participants / prompting discussion
  • Assessing the efficacy of the process

By direct instruction:

  • Presenting content and questions
  • Focusing the discussion
  • Summarizing the discussion
  • Confirming understanding
  • Diagnosing misperceptions
  • Injecting knowledge from diverse sources
  • Responding to technical concerns

Points are awarded, up to 4, for instances of teaching presence in questions and responses.

References, supporting documents: 

Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R. & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Seattle, WA: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Garrison, D. R. (2002). Cognitive presence for effective asynchronous online learning: the role of reflective inquiry, self-direction and metacognition. Boltons Landing, NY: Paper presented at the Fourth Annual Sloan ALN Workshop.

Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchnronous Learning Networks, 6, (1), 21-40. Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R. & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14 (2).

Rovai, A. P. (2002). A preliminary look at the structural differences of higher education classroom communities in traditional and ALN courses. Journal of Asynchnronous Learning Networks, 6, (1), 41-56. Swan, K. (2002). Learning Effectiveness: What the research tell us. Boltons Landing, NY: Paper presented at the Fourth Annual Sloan ALN Workshop.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Bill Pelz, Professor of Psychology and collector of motor scooters