Tag für Lehrende 2024 der FHStP


🛠️ Digitally Empathetic: The Success Factor of Social Presence in Virtual Teaching

#Social Presence, #Virtual Teaching, #Cognitive Engagement; #Physicality

Henrik Dindas

Exploring Virtual Presence Teaching

In the context of digital evolution in higher education, physicality's communicative role has undergone a profound transformation, becoming a complex tapestry of symbols and meanings (O'Halloran, 2022). Dindas (2021) views this through a semiotic perspective, underscoring the insights it provides into social and individual identities, as supported by Markus and Kitayama (1998). Betti (2008) emphasizes its pedagogical importance, especially in higher education. This physical element significantly affects how teachers and students interact and learn, where sign-based processes play a critical role in enhancing cognitive engagement and knowledge transfer (Dindas & Oleschko, 2021; Rupp & Dold, 2023). The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a critical reexamination of physicality's role in education, particularly within virtual teaching environments (Hochschulforum Digitalisierung, 2021). This transition to digital spaces introduced novel interpretations of physical presence (Dindas & Schulte, submitted for publication), intertwining both physical and digital elements. The absence of a traditional physical environment and questions surrounding the effectiveness of virtual settings necessitated a reevaluation of physicality's influence in education. This paradigm shift, far from being transient, signaled a profound and enduring transformation in educational methodologies and interactions between educators and learners, essentially evolving the notion of presence in education (Reinmann, 2021).

The shift to remote teaching during the pandemic brought a critical focus on the transformation of teaching and learning experiences due to the lack of physical presence. This transition, as Kerres (2022) noted, was not merely a temporary adaptation, but a lasting change in educational methods and virtual interactions between educators and learners. The Hochschulforum Digitalisierung (2022) and Dindas and Schulte (submitted for publication) emphasize the ongoing relevance of these shifts, underscoring their potential impact on the shaping of future virtual higher education and digital pedagogical strategies. The transition to online higher education, where physical presence is seemingly absent, has significantly reshaped not just the operational aspects of universities, but also the very essence of how teaching and learning are experienced. This evolution, as outlined by Dindas et al. (2022), has seen initial experimental digital methods like webinars become integral to educational frameworks. This paradigm shift, moving from traditional, physically-focused education to diverse, hybrid modes of interaction, introduced both obstacles and benefits, notably making learning more flexible and inclusive, as observed by Laufer et al. (2021).

The evolution from traditional classroom teaching to a hybrid model, integrating both physical and digital realms, marks a pivotal change in educational practices. This paradigm shift draws attention to the evolving concept of physical presence in teaching, especially in digital formats. Understanding virtual physicality, encompassing not just the technological aspect but also emotional, cognitive, and social facets, is increasingly essential. Research in communication and media psychology underscores the need to grasp social presence within virtual learning settings (Dindas & Schulte, submitted for publication). This knowledge is critical in adapting didactics for effective education in digitally dominated environments, where virtual interaction plays a key role in the learning process.

In educational environments, both physical and virtual, the essence of teaching and learning hinges on the interpersonal dynamics between educators and learners. Emphasizing more than mere physical attendance, the concept of presence in these settings involves rich, immediate interactions, weaving together ideas, emotions, and feedback. This interaction dynamic is crucial for effective learning outcomes, influencing student engagement and satisfaction. Research by Hattie (2023) and Tyrväinen, Uotinen, and Valkonen (2021) underscores this point, illustrating how teachers in virtual classrooms foster a meaningful presence through social and instructional interactions, which are pivotal for establishing strong connections and enriching the learning experience. In the context of virtual education, establishing meaningful interactions despite the absence of physical proximity is a core objective. Studies highlight the significant impact of nurturing connections and a robust social presence for online learning success. Borup et al. (2020) bring to light the significance of fostering relationships and a sense of belonging, which are pivotal in enhancing student engagement and learning experiences. This research underscores the necessity of focusing on all dimensions of educational interaction, especially in virtual formats, to create an enriching learning atmosphere that supports the emotional, motivational, and volitional aspects of learning.

The non-profit, foundation-supported FOM University of Applied Sciences (Hochschule für Oekonomie & Management) was founded in 1991. Today, with over 50,000 students, it is one of Germany's largest universities. The “Digitales Live-Studium” (DLS) program at FOM provides a unique framework to examine Social Presence in educational environments. By contrasting courses offered both on-campus and virtually in DLS, it allows an in-depth comparison of educational dynamics. Additionally, a specialized training program for DLS educators emphasizes enhancing their ability to foster effective Social Presence. This not only strengthens virtual classroom interaction and community feeling but also enriches the educational experience. In virtual teaching, a more focused effort is made to establish relationships with students and to manage classroom interactions thoughtfully, necessitating tailored teaching strategies to engage students effectively.

Following the principles outlined by Dindas (2023), this section presents key didactic elements designed to enhance Social Presence in educational settings. These strategies aim to foster a more connected and interactive learning environment, particularly crucial in virtual teaching contexts.

  • Online Engagement: Fostered pre-lecture and breakout session interactions to create a supportive learning atmosphere.
  • Personal Recognition: Remembered and valued students' names and inputs, enhancing lecture interactivity and student visibility.
  • Personal Experience Inclusion: Used personal and current examples to bridge theory and practice, deepening understanding of students' thinking.
  • Classroom Experiments: Conducted live experiments for firsthand theory application and key concept comprehension.
  • Reaching All Students: Actively connected with less engaged students to ensure inclusivity.
  • Continuous Feedback: Regularly sought student feedback to adapt to their learning needs and encourage self-advocacy.

It's important to note that the examples and thoughts presented here only offer a glimpse into the complex aspects of virtual presence teaching and its didactic challenges. They are intended to inspire attention to key points in the design and implementation of virtual teaching and learning environments. Nevertheless, the ongoing discourse on the significance of Spatial and Social Presence in virtual teaching and learning environments highlights key research areas critical for the future of higher education. Research should focus on deepening our understanding of Social Presence within virtual learning environments. This includes exploring how technologies and methods that generate presence can enhance teaching quality and student engagement. Investigating the impact of these technologies on learning experiences, interactions between students and instructors, and on learning motivation and outcomes, will be pivotal. In concluding the exploration of virtual learning environments, it's essential to deepen our grasp of Social Presence in these digital contexts. Investigating presence-generating methods and their effects on instructional quality and student involvement is critical. This research should probe into how these technological tools influence educational experiences and the dynamic between students and educators, alongside their impact on academic motivation and success. These insights will be crucial in shaping advanced, interactive, and effective digital learning landscapes.