Maybe it sounds a bit too touchy feely, but I’ve been thinking more and more that there’s a need for a place in an educational setting where there are opportunities for students and faculty to create a feeling of connectedness, a spot for sharing and belonging.
The hyper public world has created such places. Intimate strangers from diverse backgrounds and locations are frequently (and cosily) talking to each other on a variety of platforms about their life experiences without the normal time and space constraints that come with direct engagement or interaction.
In University courses, many VLE’s offer tools (blogs, chat, forums etc) , that could create feelings of connection and interaction between students. From what I’ve seen, such engagement is rare. Distributed and personal relationships seem to develop, not because of the tools but because people have elected to “expose more surface area” and add their everyday facts, places, comments, feelings, significant others, etc to their own micro-blogs, social networking sites, media sharing sites. Connections have happened because people have wanted to develop “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity”. A sense of awareness of the presence of an interaction partner is what creates “ambient intimacy” – Leisa Reichelt
Students could start to feel connected when the medium that they are using allows its users interpersonal interactions. Conversely, class members feel isolated and group dynamics suffer when social connections are not encouraged. Social (co)-presence is explored more formally by Short, Williams and Christie in their book, The Social Psychology of Telecommunications. Although I have not got access to their book, Steve Wheeler and Ruth Rettie’s research have helped me understand that social presence essentilly the ability to project yourself via another medium” (Justin M. Bonzo describes Ruth’s work better than I can). Essentially social presence is a process by which person comes to know and think about other persons, their characteristics, qualities and inner states. Increased social presence leads to a better person perception. Within education, this capacity to be “real” has become a significant factor for creating a sense of community within a course.
Getting back to the point. My original intention behind this post is to get my collegues to start to think about their social presence. While I’m not sure how you start making people aware of the possible presence of an interaction partner, I thought that this exercise for social workers by Barry Cooper & Maggie Pickering from the PPBL PIVOT Project from the Open University had possibilities and I have adapted it so that they may start thinking about developing their professional identity. If you are interested, please take a look at The Commemorative Trophy for Amazing Knowledge Work. As always, comments would be appreciated.