Epigeum interview


Today I was interviewed by people from Epigeum. Interesting set of questions, thought I’d provide a summary of my answers here.


1.     Why is it important for an online teacher to establish a social presence with his/her online class?

Establishing an online social presence is essential. In face to face situations you can gauge the situation by visual clues – eye contact, body movements, whereas these are absent online. You can to some extent mimic them through the use of emoticons etc. but it is not the same online. If students are going to engage in meaningful discussion online they need to feel at ease and feel that they can trust others, only then will a community of practice start to develop.

2.     What strategies would you recommend for a teacher seeking to establish a social presence? How do they differ from what you do in a face-to-face environment?

Firstly, it is important to make it clear what the role of the online space is; how it will be used and what the benefits of participation will be. Secondly, you need to clarify the ground rules for how the students should interact, what is in scope and out. So for example, encouraging mutual reciprocity, supportive discourse and group engagement. Thirdly, you need to establish the level of digital literacy skills the students have; i.e. whether or not they have participated in online forums before and if not providing guidance and support for them to develop these skills. Fourthly, topics should be clear and interesting, topics that open themselves up for discussion, not simple yes or no answers. Fifthly, the moderator should introduce the topic and suggest possible lines of enquiry for discussion. They should then steer (not dominate) the conversation – providing both individual answers, as well as group replies. They should bring the conversation to a clear conclusion at the relevant point, to avoid the conversation fizzling out. This topping and tailing is one of the key success strategies in facilitating meaningful online discussions. Finally, it is advisable to have a clear start and end point to the discussion.  

3.     Can you give an example of a situation where social presence has ‘broken down’? What were the consequences?

In a sense the answer to this is the opposite of success strategies. So a discussion forum where it is not clear to the students as to what the purpose is or a forum with badly formulated questions. Sometimes the group dynamics doesn’t work and in this case the moderator needs to try and steer the discussion to redress the balance.

4.     What is the top advice you would give to a new/reluctant online teacher?

Have a go! I think things like participatory workshops showing teachers good examples of effective moderation can be very helpful and opportunities for them to explore the online space and experiment. We do this as part of our 7Cs of Learning Design workshops and encourage participants to work in teams of 4 or 5, so that they can learn from each other.


  1. What are the key concepts of the learning design model?

Our 7 Cs of Learning Design framework is based around: Conceptualise, Capture, Communicate, Collaborate, Combine and Consolidate. See http://e4innovation.com/?p=628 for more details. The framework provides teachers with guidance and support to make more effective design decisions that are pedagogically informed and make appropriate use of technologies.

  1. How do you use learning design in your practices?

In two ways. In the design of my own courses such as our MSc in Learning Innovation and reflectively looking at the evaluation of workshops we run to iteratively improve them


  1. Could you describe the work that you have done with the OU on the Learning Design Initiative? What are the aims of the project and what insights are you gaining into the design process?

The OULDI was the starting point in many ways for my learning design work, although it built on the DialogPlus toolkit we developed at Southampton. The 7Cs work builds on it incorporating the work at Leicester and in particular their Carpe Diem work.

  1. What are the fundamental benefits of using the learning design model?

I think designing for learning is the key challenge facing education today. Despite the enormous potential of technologies to facilitate different pedagogical approaches and support rich interaction, communication and collaboration, technologies are not being used extensively. Learning design provides a mechanism to increase uptake and use of technologies.

One Response to “Epigeum interview”

  1. Mark Says:

    I’d agree with all those comments on social presence. What’s intriguing to me about the dialogue though is that there’s no clarification about what social presence is. For someone who did their PhD on online presence, and had to spend the first year trying to identify a commonly held definition and failing, this shows the amount of progress we’ve come through as a sector in the last 8 years. These concepts aren’t just ubiquitous, we have a shared understanding of what they mean.

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