Increasing Social Presence in Online Learning through Small Group Discussions

Mete Akcaoglu, Eunbae Lee, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, May 16, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This could have been such an interesting paper had the authors not succumbed to what is a disease in our field, small (n=33) and unrepresentative (graduate students pursuing a master's degree in education) samples. The idea was to determine the impact of small group size on social presence in learning, where social presence was measured in three dimensions:

  • The Work Group Cohesion Index, developed by Price and Mueller (1986), was used to measure workgroup cohesion in organizational contexts.
  • The Sociability Scale (Kreijns et al., 2007) was originally designed to determine the perceived degree of sociability of computer supported collaborative learning.
  • The Sociability Scale (Kreijns et al., 2007) was originally designed to determine the perceived degree of sociability of computer supported collaborative learning.

Oh, what a larger scale and more comprehensive study could have done with this, actually getting into the differences in these three models, looking at the nuance a large sample size would provide, and perhaps identifying conditions (cultures, subject area, personalities) in which one or another is a more useful tool. Ah, but we get none of this. We get only this: "Our results suggest that by manipulating group size, students' perceptions of cohesion, and sociability were positively increased." Sigh.

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