Social presence, interaction, and participation in asynchronous creative writing workshops



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Trends in user-generated content on the Web are shifting the role of online course materials, student work, and communications channels in instructional settings. Evidence of users’ interaction with content has been brought into the foreground through interface elements which reflect and encourage interaction, including comments, ratings, tags, “likes”, view statistics, and others. This research considers such features "interaction traces" and explores their use and interpretation by student learners. This research investigates the use and perception of these features by students within a particular type of asynchronous learning environment, the creative writing workshop. Within the two courses studied, a poetry course and a fiction course, two forms of interaction traces were presented: peer criticism posted as comments on creative work and visible view counts for all comments posted in the course. Informed by the Community of Inquiry framework and using a case study methodology, this dissertation investigates whether interaction traces affect perceptions of social presence among students and how students respond to this evidence of the interaction and critique. Data were collected from course discussion transcripts, course management system usage statistics, and participant responses to six surveys. Discussion thread transcripts were subjected to content analysis for indicators of social presence. Additionally, the researcher performed individual interviews with the instructor and a subset of students. Analysis of participants' social presence, interaction with others, and participation in the class revealed evidence that peer criticism was mediated by social presence, that students engaged in a variety of individual relationships based on perceptions developed through interaction traces, and that participant reading and writing activities affected how they perceived the course and their peers. Social presence in comments served not only to humanize participants and to resolve conflict but led to confusion and frustration in some cases. The instructor's high level of social presence in the courses influenced participants and provided a model for some participants' approaches to coursework. Based on the themes which emerged from the case reports, this dissertation suggests some implications for online course planning and course management system design with regard to interaction traces.