Enhancing the Facilitation of Online Groups in Higher Education: A Review of the Literature on Face-to-Face and Online Group-Facilitation
Thomas, G; Thorpe, SJ
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There still appears to be a gap between what online learning promises and what it can deliver in terms of student learning. Developments in online pedagogies and professional learning appear to lag behind the developments in technology and the promised benefits of technological transformation may not be realised. In this paper, we bring together perspectives that highlight vital aspects of online group-learning by reviewing the group-facilitation literature and the latest online learning literature to interrogate the pedagogical theories and practices currently used in online group-learning in higher education. We specifically focus on the interpersonal interactions between teachers and students, which are described in the online learning literature using the terms instructor immediacy, teaching presence, and social presence. We note differences in the literature regarding how teacher presence is interpreted and enacted and we expound the importance of the personal characteristics of the online teacher. Finally, we provide some signposts that might help course designers and teachers to improve online group learning: the intentional use of effective online learning pedagogies; a deeper understanding of what constitutes teacher presence; and strategies to enact that teacher presence with online groups. Recommendations for further research in online group facilitation are provided.