Precis: Non-task Sociability in CSCL (Abedin, Daneshgar & D’Ambra, 2011)


This is an installment in a series of summaries of journal articles that I have been reading.

Abedin, B., Daneshgar, F., & D’Ambra, J. (2011). Enhancing non-task sociability of asynchronous CSCL environments. Computers & Education, 57, 2535–2547. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.06.002


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Social interactions, which enhance learning in computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments, involve both on-task and non-task (McNeil, Robin, & Miller, 2000) types of interactions.  On-task refers to pedagogical activities, and non-task refers to non-pedagogical activities like providing social support and friendship. Past literature found that non-task interaction does not occur automatically in CSCL environments.  The purpose of this study was to identify and validate the factors that influence non-task interaction. The authors created a conceptual model in which they hypothesized that control factors would affect the learners’ sense of community and the individuals’ communicative behavior adaptability.  They also hypothesized that community and adaptability would positively affect non-pedagogical sociability

The sample consisted of students from a postgraduate management degree at an Australian university.  The pilot study involved 200 student from the degree program, and the second study consisted of 210 students.  The students completed a questionnaire 13 non-task sociability items, 12 sense of community items, 15 communicative behavior adaptability items, 13 control factor items, and demographic information..

The authors used exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and found that perceptions of compatibility and self-representation were positively related to a sense of cohesion and awareness of others.  Cohesion and awareness were positively related to non-pedagogical sociability.

The study contributed to the literature by identifying five indicators of non-task sociability: finding help, sense of appealing, sense of boringness, sense of interactivity, and sense of frustration.  This student also contributes to the literature by establishing and validating a model of the factors that influence non-task sociability. The study also validated an instrument for measuring the factors in the model.

The perception of sociability factor includes social experience and relative advantage. The postgraduate students in the sample may be more experienced in social situations, therefore the lack of a relationship between learner characteristics and perception of compatibility may have been unique to this sample.  This student should be replicated with undergraduate students to determine whether learner characteristics are not an influential factor in the model.

This study serves as a framework for future research, and it leads to several other research questions.  How can instructors influence these factors to encourage non-task sociability? What level of non-sociability enhances learning?  Is there a level of non-task interaction that has a negative effect on learning?  How do different technologies enhance non-task sociability? Does the instructor’s participation in non-task interact affect the level of it? Do the tools students prefer to use of non-task interaction differ from on-task interaction and why?


McNeil, S. G., Robin, B. R., & Miller, R. M. (2000). Facilitating interaction, communication and collaboration in online courses. Computers & Geosciences, 26, 699–708. doi:10.1016/S0098-3004(99)00106-5

Precis: Social Presence in Online Learning (Sung & Mayer, 2012)


This is an installment in a series of summaries of journal articles that I have been reading.

Sung, E., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). Five facets of social presence in online distance education. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 1738–1747. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.04.014


CC Image courtesy of Markus Spiske /

Social presence, the learner’s connectedness to others in the learning environment, has been well studied in the literature and found to influence learner achievement and satisfaction.  Despite these relatively consistent findings, the factors that comprise social presence have varied from study to study. The purpose of this study was to identify and validate the factors of social presence to serve as a framework for future research.

The sample consisted of 612 undergraduate students from 2 online universities.  The students completed an Online Social Presence Questionnaire (OSPQ) consisting of 30 items which they rated on a 5-point Likert scale.  The questionnaire items were selected from previously tested indicators of social presence and collected data on student perceptions.

The authors used exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to identify and validate the social presence factors.  They identified five factors: social respect, social sharing, open mind, social identity, and intimacy.  Then, using CFA, they found that the five factors were consistent across groups.

Perhaps the most significant contribution of this study is its definition of social presence.  Much of the research in social presence in the field of education cites a basis in social presence theory from the field of telecommunications, which suggests that media which supports more nonverbal cues will allow participants to more positively view their interactions (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976).  In telecommunications social presence is an attribute of the medium, but education researchers have appropriated this theory and adapted its definition.  The authors’ study clear redefines social presence for the field of education as the, “degree of feeling emotionally connected to another intellectual entity through computer mediated communication” (Sung & Mayer, 2012, p. 1739).

Although the authors’ evidence provided well conceptualized and appropriately analyzed support for the identification of the social presence factors, the authors overextend their discussion by identifying design strategy recommendations based on these factors.  Their research does not provide support for these recommendations, and the authors note the need for future research in them.  Additionally the design recommendations seem to focus on instructor-student interaction and largely ignore the potential of student-student interaction as a possible way to influence or foster feelings of social presence.

This study serves as a solid framework for future research.  These factors could be explored in conjunction with relationship factors such as group cohesion and social interdependence to identify the relationship between the two.  Examining perceptions of social presence over time using these factors could help researchers understand how social presence can be strengthened regardless of instructor intervention. Finally social presence in small groups should be explored, because it may provide a way for students to more quickly feel connected to each other.


Short, J., Williams, E., & Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. London: John Wiley and Sons.


Precis: Online Case-based Discussions (Ertmer & Koehler, 2014)


This is an installment in a series of summaries of journal articles that I have been reading.

Ertmer, P. A., & Koehler, A. A. (2014). Online case-based discussions: examining coverage of the afforded problem space. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1–20.


CC Image courtesy of Markus Spiske /

Case based and problem based learning, “ has demonstrated multiple advantages…over traditional method of instruction,” (Ertmer & Koehler, 2014) including increasing student motivation, deeper learning of content, and application of skills.  While there is affordances of case based learning have been well researched, little has been explored about what happens in the learning process during a case based discussion.  The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore how students address the concepts in a case study and how the instructor’s facilitation affects the discussion.

The sample consisted of 16 graduate students and 2 instructors.  The students participated in 3 instructor-led case discussions and 3 student-led case discussions. The authors focused on the posts from the third case discussion, and they analyzed 167 student posts and 30 instructor posts. They coded the posts by pre-identified categories and sub-categories that represented the problem space of the individual case.  The problem space consisted of the key aspects of and appropriate solutions for the case.

In their analysis of the coding, the authors found that 86% of the pre-identified problem space was covered during the instruction.  In looking at the instructor posts, they found that most posts were crafted to support students in interpretation of the case and crafting appropriate solutions.  The authors concluded that instructor prompts were important to initiating the discussion in the right direction and deepening the discussion as it unfolded.  They identify two recommendations: the importance of starter prompts and mapping out the problem space for the case study to help guide the instructor’s facilitation.

As the authors note, the study involves a relatively small data set, which is a limitation.  Another limitation occurred when the authors chose to focus on frequency of coding to evaluate the coverage of the problem space.  This presumes that frequency of occurrence can represent quality or thoroughness of the topic coverage.

While this study identified the value of identifying the learning space and its categories as a tool to facilitate discussion, this data could have been analyzed in other ways to shed more light on case based discussions.  For example, social network analysis (SNA) could have been conducted to identify patterns within the interaction.  Xie, Yu, and Bradshaw (2014) used this approach to identify patterns in moderation in asynchronous online discussions.  The posts could have been coded to identify how peers were facilitating discussion.  For example when studying student interaction  in online instruction Xie and Ke (2010) coded for information sharing, egocentric elaboration, and allocentric elaboration among other categories.

Future research should look at case-based discussions in other disciplines (e.g. business, health) in which they are frequently used.  While this study identified the importance of instructor facilitation, future studies should explore the role of peer facilitation and interaction.  A final suggestion for future research involves the examination of the quality of case-based discussions.


Ertmer, P. A., & Koehler, A. A. (2014). Online case-based discussions: examining coverage of the afforded problem space. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1–20.

Xie, K., Yu, C., & Bradshaw, A. C. (2014). Impacts of role assignment and participation in asynchronous discussions in college-level online classes. The Internet and Higher Education, 20, 10–19. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2013.09.003

Xie, Y., Ke, F., & Sharma, P. (2010). The effects of peer-interaction styles in team blogs on students’ cognitive thinking and blog participation. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 42(4), 459–479. doi:10.2190/EC.42.4.f