Ethnicity and Social Presence in Online Courses

Social presence, “the degree to which a medium is perceived as representing the presence of communication participants,” is an important factor in students’ learning and satisfaction. With online learning reaching across cultures, Judy Teng, educational technologist at the College of Saint Rose, studied how ethnicity affects student perceptions of social presence.

Teng administered questionnaires to 59 students (13 of whom were Asian) at three institutions to answer the following research questions:

  • How does Asian students’ perception of social presence correlate with their perceived interaction in online discussions? With their perceived learning? With their satisfaction?
  • Are there differences in the correlations between Asian and Caucasian students?
  • Do they perceive the observed variables differently?

The survey results indicate that students’ perception of social presence was strongly correlated to their perceived learning, their perceived interaction, and their satisfaction with the course.

Asian students, however, perceived less social presence than their Caucasian counterparts did. Although this perceived lower level of social presence was not correlated with significant differences in satisfaction or perceived learning, Teng recommends that instructors pay attention to the issue of ethnicity and how it might affect communication in the online classroom.

She offers the following suggestions for overcoming these differences in social presence among different ethnicities:

  • Provide non-content-related icebreaker activities at the beginning of the course.
  • Teach students how to communicate online.
  • Allow students opportunities to express their needs.
  • Encourage participation, and acknowledge students’ contributions.

Excerpted from Study: Social Presence Perceived Differently by Different Ethnic Groups, May 2007, Online Classroom.