Student Experiences of Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence in Online Graduate-Level Communication Courses: A Mixed Methods Study

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Dolan, Helen
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This exploratory study sought to examine students’ experiences of a social, cognitive, and teaching presence – the three elements comprising the Community of Inquiry framework – in online, graduate-level communication courses at Mount Saint Vincent University. Employing a sequential mixed methods approach, qualitative and quantitative data were collected from two non-probability samples. For each phase of the study, participants were drawn from the population of graduate students enrolled in one or more of four 13-week courses offered by the Department of Communication Studies during the winter 2015 semester. During the first, qualitative phase of the study, a sample of nine students responded to a series of “trigger questions” designed to encourage reflection with respect to students’ experiences of online learning in their current courses. During the quantitative phase, a sample of 14 students responded to the statistically validated Community of Inquiry survey. Designed to measure student experiences of online learning in terms of social, cognitive, and teaching presence, the survey consists of 34 Likert-scale questions. For this study, the survey included one additional Likert-scale question pertaining to student satisfaction. Qualitative analysis revealed that (1) participants desired a higher level of social presence in their online courses and viewed online learning as a largely independent experience; (2) cognitive presence at the group level may be stymied by insufficient social presence at the individual level; (3) frustrations surrounding technological limitations did not translate to dissatisfaction with online learning; (4) participants would generally recommend online learning to others; and (5) teaching presence is central to shaping participants’ online learning experiences. Quantitative analysis of the survey responses resulted in high scores across all three presences with social presence receiving the lowest score and teaching presence receiving the highest. Correlations between the three presences and student satisfaction could not be calculated. However, the majority of survey respondents indicated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their course experiences.
student experience, online learning, graduate students, communications studies, student satisfaction