Predictive Effects of Social Presence on Student Engagement in the Online Component of Blended Distance Learning Programs at Makerere University, Uganda
This study investigated the predictive effects of social presence on student engagement in the online component of blended distance learning programs at Makerere University, Uganda. Specifically, the study examined the extent to which affective expression, open communication, and group cohesion produced gains in student engagement in blended distance learning programs. The study was guided by the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model and employed a quantitative methodology using correlational and cross-sectional research design. The study targeted 2931 students enrolled in blended distance learning programs at Makerere University. Data were collected from 283 distance-learning students from the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) and College of Health Sciences (CHS) of Makerere University using a self-administered questionnaire. The students were selected through stratified proportionate sampling. The data were analyzed using both descriptive statistics and regression analysis. The results showed that all three elements of social presence namely; affective expression (β = .236, p = .000 < 0.05), open communication (β = .336, p = .000 < 0.05), and group cohesion (β = .297, p = .000 < .05) had a positive and significant influence on student engagement in the online component of blended distance learning programs. The study concluded that social presence plays a vital role in predicting gains in student engagement in blended distance learning programs. Hence, instructors and managers of blending distance learning programs at Makerere University should consider ways to foster social presence components namely affective expression, open communication, and social cohesion when designing online and blended distance learning courses to maximize gains of student engagement to leverage requisite educational outcomes.
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