Vera Leier
Vera Leier

Dr Vera Leier is Coordinator of the German undergraduate courses at School of Language, Social and Political Sciences at University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.


It is common for learners to find text-based online environments impersonal. This is due to the lack of communication cues such as facial expressions and hearing a tone of voice. In asynchronous online environments the common delays between a contribution and a response can often be perceived as impersonal which can then affect levels of collaboration and interaction in educational environments thus prejudicing learning. The feeling of being 'real' in an online environment is conceptualized as social presence. Social presence was defined by researchers differently, the most commonly quoted definitions are Gunawardena (1995) who understand social presence as "the degree to which a person is perceived as a 'real person' in mediated communication", Tu and McIsaac's (2002) who describe it "the degree of feeling, perception, and reaction of being connected by computer-mediated communication to another intellectual entity through a text-based encounter"; or for Picciano (2009) social presence "refers to a student's sense of being in and belonging in a course and the ability to interact with other students and an instructor".

Researchers agree that online environments are problematic for learners to develop a sense of 'being real'. Kear, Chetwynd, and Jefferis (2014) note that impersonality of online communication leads to "a lack of social presence".

In this seminar I will focus first on the concept of social presence, its components of social interaction, immediacy, intimacy, emotion, and/or connectedness. Second, I will present my study using Facebook in a German language classroom and will show how the affordances of the social media platform enabled my students to enhance the level of social presence. I will conclude my seminar by showing results of a recent research study using Instagram in my German language class, and I am looking forward to discuss the social media applications presented.