Postgraduate students studying by distance on a course intended primarily as professional development for language educators were invited to participate in real time in scheduled campus classes in the same course for campus students via Skype on iPads. After initial hesitation, some on-line students took up this real-time participation option. Initial technical difficulties were overcome after seeking input from campus and distance students. Comments suggested that the model where distance students were each represented in the physical space of the classroom as a talking head on a tablet device led to a perceived social presence (Kim 2011, Hostetter & Busch 2013). The classroom discourse evolved to refer to the distance participants in a way reminiscent of the way physically challenged campus students might be referred to, i.e. when a student was asked to help another student to turn to see the board, rather than asking them to turn the tablet. However, it also became apparent that the two groups of students, the virtual and the physical, were having partially different classroom experiences (c.f. Westberry & Franken 2013).
Sound problems were experienced by both groups, and this led to some irritation in both groups, so a series of adjustments were made and evaluated, including a move to a model where distance students participated in a group video call via Skype on a laptop rather than on multiple individual Skype calls on iPads. Towards the end of the course, the distance and campus students were asked to evaluate the experience of having physical and virtual participants sharing a physical space and to relate this experience to the asynchronous channels previously available to the participants (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes 2005). There was some othering taking place (Palfreyman 2005), from both groups, and the distance students expressed that they felt excluded from the campus students’ social community. There seemed to be a monitoring of teacher time and attention dedicated to the other group on the part of some participants in both groups. The comments of both groups of participants were interpreted in the light of an application of activity theory (Barab, Evans & Baek 2004; Brine & Franken 2006), looking at aspects of the seminars as activities with subjects and objects and rules for each group. It appears that student beliefs and student expectations lead to hidden benefits and hidden challenges associated with mixing these groups of students (Westberry & Franken 2013).
Barab, S. A., Evans, M. A., & Baek, E. O. (2004). Activity theory as a lens for characterizing the participatory
unit. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communities and technology. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Brine, J. & Franken, M. (2006). Students' perceptions of a selected aspect of a computer mediated academic writing program: An activity theory analysis. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 22 (1) 21–38.
Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction
is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133–148.
Hostetter, C. & Busch, M. (2013). Community matters: Social presence and learning outcomes. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 13 (1), 77 – 86.
Kim, J. (2011), Developing an instrument to measure social presence in distance higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology 42, 763–777.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Palfreyman, D. (2005). Othering in an English Language Program. TESOL Quarterly 39 (2), 211-233.
Westberry, N. & Franken, M. (2013). Co-construction of knowledge in tertiary online settings: an ecology of resources perspective. Instructional Science 41 (1), pp 147-164.
Distance, campus, blended, flexible, synchronous, Skype, VOIP, activity theory, social presence