I awoke to a new report this morning Measuring and Understanding Learner Emotions: Evidence and Prospects. The report is the first paper from the Learning Analytics Community Exchange which is a 2.5 year EU funded project focused on learning analytics and data mining for educational use. I must say I was delightfully surprised to see the first output from a group using data analytics to focus on emotions! Bart Rienties and Bethany Alden Rivers from the Open University in the UK have done an excellent job of reviewing work in this important area and developing a conceptual model for its further development.
Of course I was pleased to see that they built on the now venerable Community of Inquiry model developed over 15 years ago by Randy Garrison, Walter Archer and myself. I was equally pleased to see the enhancement of our model to include Emotional Presences as first argued by my colleague and Director of our Centre for Distance Education, Marti Cleveland-Innes. Marti had asked me years ago why we didn’t include emotional presence in our original model. I rather glibly replied that the COI model was developed by 3 men from southern Alberta (Canada’s cowboy country) and that REAL men in our limited world didn’t do emotions!! More rationally, I argued that emotional presence was subsumed both theoretically and empirically by a number of the indicators of social presence that we had described in the initial model. However, these arguments didn’t preclude her continuing arguments and this paper shows she is not alone.
Rienties and Rivers add the emotional circle to our original Venn diagram as below.
The 28 page report then goes on to briefly review types of research techniques that have been used to define and measure emotional presence. The same challenge we undertook using transcript analysis of educational computer conferences to validate the original model. The research methods covered include three established research methodologies:
- content analysis
- natural language processing
- identification of behavioural indicators
and four others that the authors describe as using “new data” as opposed to “existing data”. I can’t really understand the difference either conceptually or methodologically, except I guess to suggest that the later methods require generation of original data for research purposes.
- quantitative instruments
- offline interviews and purposeful online conversations
- wellbeing word clouds
- intelligent tutoring systems
In any case the paper reviews and provides nice table summaries of studies done using each method.
This work is a treasure trove for researchers looking for both new methods and an expanded (yet time proven) conceptual model to guide research in online and blended learning.
One of the values of the original COI model was its simplicity. Peter Shea and his colleagues have argued for a “Learning presence” which takes into account the learners self-efficacy, confidence and capability to learn. While not denying the value of “learner presence” it takes the model into psychological realms that our more sociological orientation had avoided in the initial formation. Adding any additional presences, adds complexity and besides the aesthetic value of a simpler, three circle Venn diagram, Occam’s Razor calls for simplicity of explanation whenever possible. So can learning in educational contexts be adequately described and measures without reference to emotions? I think it can, but this review convinced me that something is lost when the emotional aspect of human experience in education is ignored.
Given the application of the model to formal education, I was surprised to not see a bit more emphasis on teacher emotion. I know from my own experience, the emotional challenges that I deal with when teaching either online or in a classroom.In any case, this review is not the last word, but a great starting point for further research in “emotional presence”.