Social Presence


I am continuing to develop an open course in Sport Informatics and Analytics.

I am thinking more and more about the possibilities of engagement with and within this course.

This week some links shared by Stephen Downes and one from DERN have sent me off to contemplate social presence in open courses.

Perhaps I am inclined to do this because of my comfort with the nurturing and social reform models of teaching discussed by Tony Bates this week. Tony suggests:

Of all the models of teaching these two are the most learner centred. They are based on an overwhelmingly optimistic view of human nature, that people will seek out and learn what they need, and will find the necessary support from caring, dedicated educators and from others with similar interests and concerns, and that individuals have the capacity and ability to identify and follow through with their own educational needs.

I have been thinking about modular and non-linear opportunities to support motivated, self-organised learning. I am trying to balance the disposition to learn with the design of content.

Edynco’s learning maps started me off thinking about the form the content might take.

MIT has been grappling with the content issue too.

The final report of the Institute-wide task force on the future of MIT Education envisions “a future that includes a wide array of options where traditional plans may be offered alongside new paths, and where online tools enable modular and flexible learning opportunities that enrich the overall MIT educational experience”.  The report addresses modularsation in Recommendation 7.

The way in which students are accessing material points to the need for the modularization of online classes whenever possible. The very notion of a “class” may be outdated. This in many ways mirrors the preferences of students on campus. The unbundling of classes also reflects a larger trend in society—a number of other media offerings have become available in modules, whether it is a song from an album, an article in a newspaper, or a chapter from a textbook. Modularity also enables “just-in-time” delivery of instruction, further enabling project-based learning on campus and for students worldwide.

Last week, I wrote about conversation, conviviality and focused attention in synchronous learning environments.


This week Karen Kear, Frances Chetwynd and Helen Jefferis’  (2014) have encouraged me to think about how we connect in these environments and share personal information. They observe:

we should think of social presence as ‘a dynamic sense of others and relationships with them in mediated environments’ (Kehrwald 2010. p. 45), rather than something that can be easily conveyed via a static personal profile.

In his paper, Ben Kehrwald (2010) shares a continuum of social presence


In a separate presentation, Ben suggests the following to support students on this continuum:

(a) provide models of good practice in online communication, including the cultivation of social presence

(b) motivate learners to establish and cultivate a positive social presence

(c) create explicit opportunities for the establishment of online social presence

(d) generate interpersonal interaction that supports ongoing demonstrations of presence and the development of relations between individuals; and

(e) structure relatively low-risk experiences from which learners can learn to both convey an ongoing social presence and read the presence of others.

I like point (e) in particular.


My course will have a number of community drivers. This week’s links from Stephen and DERN have helped me think more about how these drivers might operate to develop a sensitive, inclusive approach to anyone keen to explore informatics and analytics.

Photo Credits

London Marathon #51 (Michael Garnett, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Conversation (Maria Rosario Sannino, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Help is on the way (Cory Doctorow, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Visual Literacy and Fair Play

Two recent events have stimulated animated discussion about the role video can and should play in officiating.

Thierry Henry’s handball in a World Cup Football qualifying game led to a FIFA disciplinary commission hearing.

The International Cricket Council will investigate the umpire decision review system after protests about decisions made in the fourth test match in South Africa.

These events have underscored for me that the essence of sport is in a state of flux and is so because of the mediated and constructed views offered by television broadcasts. The ICC proposes to meet with television broadcasters in March to discuss the standardisation of technology. Ian Chappell identified some of the issues about standardisation in his post. (See also this post and audio file from Harsha Bhogle.)

My view is that these incidents raise fundamental questions about sport and visual literacy. I note John Debes’ definition of  visual literacy as “a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences.” Ari Santas and Lisa Eaker (2009) observe that:

… to be visually literate requires us to readjust our thinking habits and have another look—to review what we have viewed. Unfortunately, there is no ready made teaching strategy that guarantees progression from unsophisticated viewing to sophisticated viewing. … our propensity is to act habitually, and it is through habit that we navigate our social world. Consequently, habituation is not something educators can opt out of, but must make use of; but this is not to say that they should thereby succumb to the mind-numbing practices of manipulators. They must, instead, habituate their students into reflective and creative modes of thinking. Visually, this means learning how to look and getting into the habit of looking, at images with a critical eye. To educate for visual literacy, then, must include training but it is training that facilitates ready movement from habitual ways of seeing and thinking to creative ways of seeing and thinking, from distinguishing between what is in need of extensive reflection and what is best left to snap-judgment or intuition.

I believe the transformation of sport through television broadcast has habituated the viewer to a particular form of experience. This is transferred to the sports arena too where spectators and players now expect large screen images of performance. The emergence of sport as spectacle in the age of entertainment has transformed the structure of sport. The rich and high definition images created by television coverage have removed the intensity of observation needed to engage in real-time (synchronous) sport. In the home theatre environment sport has become an asynchronous relationship in which real-time events can be paused and caught up with. I am wondering if the cumulative effect of this mediated visual and aural experience is transforming our ability to learn and remember.

The dilemma for sport is that in order to appeal to audiences there is constant discussion about what constitutes a sport. The more sport negotiates away its ownership of time as an essential characteristic of participation the more mediated the experience of televised sport becomes. In cricket, for example, there is growing debate about the fate of 50 over game in the light of the success of 20 over competitions. The shortened forms of any game should offer wonderful opportunities to observe and process action in real time and facilitate the neural activity so important to participation.

Francisco Maruenda (2009) discussed a fundamental issue for the game of football:

… the human being and the technological media are both physically and technically incapable of detecting an offside position in real time, in zero milliseconds. The results of this study show that when the ball is passed, the human eye and brain and the technological media need some time to locate the at least four players who intervene in an offside position. When those players are located, time has passed and they are never in the original position, when the ball was passed. Football players are trained for speed and acceleration to change their geographical position in the field when the ball is passed. Therefore, we cannot refer to a human error when an offside position is misjudged. The human being and the technological media will never be capable of detecting an offside position in real time, in zero milliseconds. The key of the offside position is a physical problem: time.

Formal games include some means of arbitration. The future of sport could be to value the person as arbitrator rather than media as judge. Sport is essentially fallible and we should celebrate this fallibility. In the process we might enhance young people’s visual acuity in real time contexts and deliver some very important long term neural stimulation.

Perhaps we need to know more about striatal volume too as we use video as a learning medium for education spectators, players, coaches and referees.

Photo Credits

Mailliw Umpires

Gazzat Refereeeee

Kevin Katinas Superman

Breaking a Snow Jumping Record