WILLINGNESS TO COMMUNICATE IN ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS (WTC-OLE) IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE COMMUNITY OF INQUIRY (CoI) PRESENCES.
PRESENCESSocial Presence, Cognitive Presence, Teaching Presence

Dissertation for:   MSc Psychology (degree awarded with merit, dissertation with distinction)

Advisor:                     Dr. Alice Doherty, 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, having personality (trait), contextual (situation-specific), and momentary (state) characteristics. From a contextual perspective, the review of relevant literature revealed that situation-specific variables that affect WTC, are also present and can 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. If WTC is a construct also relevant to the context of CMC in online learning in HE, it is expected to be related to the same contextual factors. As the CoI presences drive online communication, then they should predict the direct antecedent of communiation - WTC, if the construct is relevant to CMC in online HE.

Two 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?

 Hypothesis: the three CoI presences are statistically significant predictors of WTC-OLE.

Data was collected from 203 students and recent graduates of fully online degree programmes. Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and multiple linear regressions were conducted to answer the two research questions.

EFA results: 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, AWC, and SMC scales was .95, .94, and .93, respectively.

Multiple regressions results: The three CoI presences were found to be (collectively) significant predictors of all outcome variables (WTC-OLE, AWC, and SMC). 

The study provided insights on willingness to communicate in CMC learning environments in HE.  This is a novel research context for the WTC construct that may also provide further support for the well-established role of the CoI presences in online higher education. Although specific contextual factors (e.g. teacher immediacy, peer support) were not examined, the study provided sufficient evidence that WTC-OLE is a construct related to CMC in online HE (thus potentially a psychological antecedent) and support for further investigation and validation of the construct. The study also indicated that the choice of communication media (AWC, SMC) may shape the relationship between the CoI presences and WTC-OLE (and thus potentially online communication and collaboration). This could be further examined as it might be of some interest relevant to online instructional communication and course design. Also, if WTC-OLE is a valid construct that affects communication in online learning environments (in a role of a behavioural intention), then its measurement could probably provide early trigers of students' low willingness to communicate (engage, participate) well before these materialise to drop outs or low satisfaction levels (given an established relationship with the CoI presences). The above may indicate some interesting new lines of research for both the WTC construct and the CoI framework.






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