How to “Teach” Social Presence

This blog post is about “Social Presence” for the #HumanMOOC Course

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Learning “How to Learn” Online…..with a focus on Social Presence

When I co-facilitated ED722 with Dr Ian O’Byrne last year….(A course  to introduce you to emerging trends, issues and practices in online learning.) we thought long and hard about developing our digital presence – but also about how to help develop the students’ online presence so students could develop confidence to learn on their own – online.

We wanted to expand on the idea of “open learning” and MOOCs by learning “with” our students and consistently modelling “how” we learn. We wanted the students to realize that we have never stopped learning, and that the way we learn in a “course” is only the first stage of learning online.

So we set up the course in “social presence stages”. After having experienced the lack of learner support in previous MOOcs ourselves we knew we needed to set up the course in stages. We used  “constructivist” pedagogy first as a stage BEFORE attempting to promote connectivist and ultimatley serendipitous learning

So – our “teaching online plan”looked something like this:

12 week course Course Syllabus

Week 1 -2


  • Building relationships
  • Introduction to the course resources and tools

We used Google Sites as the main course page, with a separate closed Google community students were introduced to basic research, literature and the digital tools that the 12 week course would provide.

Week 3:

Objective :

  • How to demonstrate evidence of learning- in the open

Then we introduced (and modelled) Storify – We asked students to examine examples of story’s that we had already made about “What we learned OR a summary of the learning we saw collected – from a facilitator point of view”. We encouraged the students to refer to the set course references, resources and tools.  The instructional design was simple: course content and weekly synchronous google hangouts with Dr. Ian O’Byrne *(and Verena when she remembered to make it).

Week 4


  • Experience Learning in an open networked environment

We joined  a MOOC together. We decided to join DLMOOC – a Mooc about Deeper Learning. I happened to know one of the lead facilitators of the course – so I did mention to Karen Fasimpaur  that we would be joining as a “Learning Cohort”. Most of the course discussion still remained in the private Google Community and students started to transition to Storify – but seemed to prefer to “describe their learning” on their blogs.


Week 5-10


  • Overview emerging trends, issues and practices in online learning – by experiencing them and connecting to your own experiences.

Using the MOOC topics as a guide, Ian and integrated the course topics to connect with the MOOC topics. Students started to expand their “Community of learning” from the set “closed” private community to the Learners within the MOOC. What data did Ian and I have to support this? Each week we asked the students to add their storifies and blog posts (either or) to a google chart.

What I saw evidence of as a facilitator-learner……

At first students tended to add course resources and their own social media posts to their storifies.

For example, a student would comment about the weekly readings then add in their tweet or google post.

Then – With the addition of the MOOC “learners” , which provided a larger community but a more sustainable means for the lead facilitator to give feedback to students posts and comments. We started to see evidence of the addition of different learner’s posts, examples of their tweets or posts (within a ED722 student’s storify). This demonstrated that there was a shift in the perception of how we express our learning” because the resources and “teacher guided” content was not the only content quoted, and we were not the only people  that the students were learning from. “The experts were in the room – the room being the Internet”.

The private google community became a place for questions and feedback about assignments – but the learning was taken “outside” of the private community and transported “back into” the community by the students.

By Week 10 – with the addition of the MOOC “learners” , which provided a larger community but a more sustainable means for the lead facilitator to give feedback to students posts and comments, students were responding to the course topics, the MOOC topics and adding RT’s and replies and answers. Many students were invited to participate in Google+ hangouts for the MOOC – so their social presence was promoted by learning “outside” of the traditional course.

Week 11 and 12 were a time spent completing projects.We had asked that the groups be 2 or 3 people, but many of the groups had connected with other learners outside of the course. By building relationships with other learners in the MOOC, they had a plethora of people to learn with and from.

For me – the best experience was the final blog posts and storifies.

All the “evidence of learning” for the course is found here if you are interested.

What did I learn as a facilitator?

All students need to start a  new project or experience by finding their common cultural border crossing. BY giving the students 2 weeks to figure out what we were up to, we didn’t initiate too much fear. We also focused on developing relationships so the students knew who we were and knew that they could ask us for help and support.

We also started slowly – by starting an online course, then a MOOC, students could see we were starting in stages.

We modelled how we learn. Ian and I gave feedback through social media, we RT’d student tweets, blogs and other forms of online interaction – we supported their development of social presence – and I feel the students knew that they were supported. The students also got to see how the facilitators learn and who we are through our personal interactions and development of our own digital identities.

By the end of the course, I felt that the students knew how to learn by themselves. We transitioned from teacher-directed to serendipitous connected learning – while always maintaining a stable “safety” zone private online community. To this day I Retweet (RT) and connect with the students and consider them my fellow peers.

We continue to learn together.