Ming Lei

Telepresence and Engagement in Synchronous-Hybrid Learning Contexts

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Jul 202017
 

Telepresence and Engagement in Synchronous-Hybrid Learning Contexts

John Bell
William Cain
Cui Cheng
Amy Peterson
Ming Lei
Ying Hu
Ian Clemente
Jessica Sprick

 

Introduction

Here at the Synchronous Learning and Teaching Environments Research and Design (SLATE R&D) at the Design Studio, our work over the last few years has focused on Synchronous-Hybrid courses, with emphasis on telepresence and what students’ do in those environments. The purpose of this paper is to describe and present the Telepresence and Engagement Measurement Scale (TEMS), an instrument designed for implementation in synchronous-hybrid contexts. The TEMS instrument measures students’ sense of social presence, their embodiment, and their engagement in class and designed to be used for face-to-face and online students in higher education.

Background

Telepresence has been the focus of researchers in a number of different fields across the last decade and more. For example, researchers have examined how technology-mediated presence affects the interactions between healthcare providers and their patients (Broadbent, Stafford, & MacDonald, 2009; Robinson, MacDonald, & Broadbent, 2014; Salzmann-Erikson & Erikson, 2016), as well as interactions between coworkers in the workplace (Hinds, Roberts, & Jones, 2004; Mutlu & Forlizzi, 2008; Olson & Olson, 2000). Technology-mediated presence has also become the subject of educational research due to its potential to improve access to collaborative interactions and its unique impact on learning experiences (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Kristoffersson, Coradeschi, & Loutfi, 2013; Newhart, 2014; Power 2008)

At Michigan State University, SLATE R&D has developed and studied several models of synchronous-hybrid learning.. This work has included studies of balanced versus weighted designs in synchronous hybrid settings, i.e., distributing students equally or unequally (Cain & Henriksen, 2013); proto-robotic models, such as personal portals, where students go from being embodied together on a shared videoconference to having individualized screens on iPads (Sawaya, Bell, & Cain, 2013); linked classrooms where students and instructors from different campus worked together, as well synchronous small groups (Bell, Sawaya, & Cain, 2014; Cain & Henriksen, 2013).

Early research focused on issues precursory to the building a sense of being others and being in a place. Cain, et al. (2013) emphasized the importance of the senses and perception, specifically optimizing audio and video for learners. Subsequently, Sawaya and Cain (2014) found that the sense of being in a place and with others in a technology-mediated mode impacts social presence. This was followed up by research around videoconferencing and robotic telepresence technologies, such as the Double Robot and Kubi, which provided hybrid students a form of physical embodiment in the learning space (Bell, et al., 2016). This work was framed around the goal of reducing the gap that Sawaya and Cain (2014) found in hybrid students’ social presence, and that better social presence and increased autonomy in the hybrid students (Bell, Cain, Peterson, & Cheng, 2016).

Telepresence

The TEMS instrument is meant for use in blended learning environments that include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous components, and the use of technology-mediated presence, such as attending class via robot or video conferencing (Haans & IJsselsteijn, 2012). Our focus has been on telepresence, though it does have a sister construct, virtual presence. According to Haans and IJsselsteijn (2012), virtual presence refers to presence in a simulated environment, such as virtual reality, whereas telepresence refers to technology-mediated presence in an actual physical environment. Our instrument has been built around Haans and IJsselsteijn’s characterization of telepresence, so it may not be directly applicable to virtual environments.

In the conceptualization of telepresence presented by Haans and IJsselsteijn, the sense of being in a place has three major components: morphology, body schema, and body image. Morphology, when considered in respect to the human body, has to do with the charateristics or appearance of the body. Body schema pertains to the function of the body. And lastly, body image pertains to the reflexive awareness of one’s own body. These three dimensions of embodiment change in technology-mediated contexts, since one’s physical body is embodied through technological means, such a web-conference session on a computer screen. In the TEMS instrument, we used an adapted version of this model such that embodiment comprises projection, perception, and projection of perception. We define perception as the ability to see and hear, which corresponds with the concept of body schema. We define projection as the ability of others to see and hear the user, which corresponds with morphology. Lastly, we define perception of projection as the ability of a user to perceive how they are projecting into a space, which corresponds with body image.

In the TEMS instrument, we have extended concept of telepresence to include the sense of being with others, or social presence (Biocca, 1997; Biocca, Harms & Burgoon, 2003; Short et al., 1976). Following the work of Biocca et al. (2003), our definition of telepresence captures multiple dimensions: copresence, the awareness or sense of being with other people, psychological involvement, the sense of being with thinking, conscious beings, and behavioral engagement, the sense that one is interacting with others. Within psychological involvement, we included the concepts of intimacy, the sense of closeness to others (cued from eye-contact, emotional expression), and immediacy, the degree of psychological distance (cued from relationship type, degree of interest).

Engagement

Engagement has been defined in many ways, addressing both behaviors that take place within the classroom, such as coming to class prepared, asking questions, and activity outside of the classroom, such as civic engagement (Finn & Rock, 1997; Reschly & Christenson, 2012). In this work, the scope has been limited to engagement within the classroom and participatory patterns associated with behavioral, cognitive, and affective elements of engagement (Reschly & Christenson, 2012).

To create the engagement items for the TEMS instrument, we reviewed several existing instruments, such as the School Engagement Scale (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, Friedel, & Paris, 2005); Student Engagement Instrument (Appleton, et al., 2006); Student Engagement in Schools Questionnaire – Engagement Composite (Hart, Stewart, & Jimerson, 2011); Motivation and Engagement Scale (Martin, et al., 2014; Higher Education Authority, 2015); behavioral engagement items from Skinner, Kindermann, and Furrer (2009); a college student engagement measure by Handelsman, Briggs, and Towler (2005); and a student interest and engagement scale by Mazer (2012). Using these items as a starting point, we adapted items from these existing instruments that would capture behavioral engagement, i.e., what students do in class, cognitive engagement, i.e., what students think about in class, and affective engagement, i.e.,what students feel in class, in synchronous-hybrid classes.

Next Steps

The TEMS still needs to be validated. While our interviews with our study participants have provided evidence to suggest some face validity of the items, our next step is to conduct some validity tests of the items, such as cluster analysis, to ensure that the survey items load appropriately to their respective variables.

 Telepresence and Engagement Measurement Scale

Experience and Comfort
I am very skilled in participating in academic settings using robotic telepresence technology.
I am very comfortable in participating in academic settings using robotic telepresence technology.

Embodiment
I could easily see what I wanted to see.
I could easily hear what I wanted to hear.
I felt like people could see me when I wanted to be seen.
I felt like people could hear me when I wanted to be heard.
I had a good sense of how I appeared to others.
I had a good sense of how I appeared to others.

Social Presence
I felt like I was with those who were physically present in my class.
I felt like I was with those who were NOT physically present in my class.
I was aware of those who were physically present in my class.
I was aware of those who were NOT physically present in my class.
I felt close to those who were physically present in my class.
I felt close to those who were NOT physically present in my class.
I felt alone during the class.
I used VERBAL means (speaking and chat) to communicate with people who were physically present.
I used NON-VERBAL means (gestures, facial expressions, movement, etc.) to communicate with people who were physically present.
I used VERBAL means (speaking and chat) to communicate with people who were NOT physically present.
I used NON-VERBAL means (gestures, facial expressions, movement, etc.) to communicate with people who were NOT physically present.
I could tell when my efforts to communicate reached the intended people.
I could tell when my efforts to communicate had the intended effect.

Psychological Involvement
I felt like I was on the same page as others in the live sessions.
I felt that others in the live sessions acknowledged my point of view.
My opinions were clear to others in the live sessions.
I easily understood how others in the live sessions reacted to my comments.
I had a warm and comfortable relationship with others in the live sessions.
I felt that others in the live sessions cared about me.
I felt I was able to be personally close to others in the live sessions.
I was respected by others in the live sessions.
I was encouraged by others in the live sessions.
I was assisted by others in the live sessions.
I was treated equitably by others in the live sessions.
When I compare my experience to students in the other mode.. (If you were physically present, this question refers to people who were not physically present and vice versa.)
When I compare my experience to students in the other mode.. (If you were physically present, this question refers to people who were not physically present and vice versa.)

Engagement – Behavioral
I worked with students from this class to complete the course assignments.
I asked questions in class.
I participated during class discussions by sharing my thoughts and ideas.
I discussed course material with the instructor during class.
I listened attentively to my classmates’ contributions during class discussions.
I helped my classmates during class (e.g., answer questions).
I paid attention in class.

Engagement – Affective
The course material was relevant to my life (and/or career/research interest).
The course was interesting to me.
I had fun in class.
I liked the things we covered in class.

Engagement – Cognitive
I tried to connect new information with what I already know.
What I learned is important to my future.
I worked hard in class.
This course made me more knowledgeable.
The information in the course was useful.
I thought about what my classmates said in class even without talking.

References

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