PRESENCESSocial Presence, Cognitive Presence, Teaching Presence

Dissertation for:   MSc Psychology

Advisor:                     Dr. Alice Doherty, Psychology Academic Lead & Course Director, University of Derby Online Learning

Summary of the research project

Willingness to communicate (WTC) is the direct psychological antecedent of communication behaviour in traditional (classroom) instructional settings (e.g. L2 teaching/learning), with trait-like, contextual, and state-like characteristics. From a contextual perspective, situation-specific variables that affect WTC are also present and shape computer-mediated-communication (CMC) in online learning environments in higher education (HE) through the interaction of the three interdependent elements of the community of inquiry (CoI) framework – teaching, social, and cognitive presence. As traditional and online learning environments share common determining factors  of student communicative behaviour (e.g. teaching practices), it is assumed that WTC is also relevant to CMC in online environments in HE. As CoI presences drive online communication and collaboration, they are expected to predict WTC.

Research questions:

  1. What is the factor structure underlying the willingness to communicate in online learning environments (WTC-OLE) scale?
  2. Are teaching, social, and cognitive presences significant predictors of WTC-OLE?

Data was collected from 203 students and recent graduates of fully online degree programmes. Two measures were used: the CoI measurement instrument and the WTC-OLE scale which was based on the original WTC scale and adapted to the CMC context of online learning in HE. Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and multiple linear regressions were conducted to answer the research questions.

Simple factor structure was achieved with a two-factor solution: (i) asynchronous written communication (AWC: emails/discussion boards), and (ii) synchronous multimodal communication (SMC: webinars). Cronbach’s alpha for the WTC-OLE scale and the WTC-AWC and WTC-SMC subscales was .95, .94, and .93, respectively. The three CoI presences were significant predictors (collectively) of the outcome variables.  Social Presence was a statistically significant contributor to all three models, Teaching Presence of WTC-OLE and WTC-AWC, whereas Cognitive Presence was not a significant predictor.

The WTC-OLE scale shows very high internal consistency reliability and probably content validity. The factor structure indicates that the medium is salient in students' perceptions about communication in online learning environments and reveals situation-specific characteristics of the construct. Based on regression analysis results it may be suggested that WTC-OLE is relevant to the context and determined by factors that also shape online communication and collaboration in HE. Study results reflect CoI theoretical framework assumptions about the social interdependence and cognitive independence that characterise collaborative constructivist online learning environments, and as such, the nature of online communication. In this context, communication and collaboration do not exactly coincide as collaboration implies a (intellectual) product/deliverable. Nevertheless, the two are inextricably connected to self-reflection and meaning-making, and the collaborative construction of knowledge. Thus, one would expect the most proximal determinant (WTC) of communication behaviour to be aligned with the different nature of each phase/stage of student experience, and as follows, the levels and nature of communication that characterises each phase/stage. Therefore, the predictive ability of the three CoI presences as reported, indicates that WTC-OLE is not only relevant but also potentially a determinant of communication behaviour in online learning environments.

Further research could be directed initially towards the validation of the construct, the exploration of relationships with situation-specific and trait-like variables that shape CMC communication in online HE (potential antecedents), and the investigation of the predictive ability on measures of communication behaviour.


Anastasios Katsaris
Educational Consultant



Willingness to communicate in online learning environments (WTC-OLE) in higher education and the relationship with the community of inquiry (CoI) presences.
Anastasios Katsaris, Alice Doherty
October 7, 2020
Dissertation for:   MSc Psychology

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