1. TITLE (proposed)
Emotional presence in online learning, student-wellness, and the promotion of module success rates and student retention.
2. SUMMARY OF TOPIC
Rather than being antithetical to thinking or reasoning, current research would suggest that emotion has a critical role to play in the teaching and learning process – especially in the online environment. The question posed is, to what extent will intentionally establishing an emotional presence in the online learning environment contribute to student-wellness, improved module success rates and student retention?
3. SHORT LITERATURE REVIEW
Traditional Western thinking would have us agree that thinking and feeling, cognition and emotion should be viewed as distinct opposites (O’Regan, 2003). In their 2012 study, Emotional Presence, Learning and the Online Learning Environment, Cleveland-Innes and Campbell note that, until recently, the connection between emotion and learning has received very little attention in the development of educational and instructional models. This may be due, in part, to the complexity of providing a clear definition of what constitutes ’emotion’; as LeDoux (1999) explained, “everyone knows what (emotion) is until they are asked to define it”.
According to Cleveland-Innes and Campbell, some have suggested that emotions are inherent to the human condition and to ignore emotion in the human response is to ignore a central element of the human experience (LeDoux, 1996; Plutchick, 2003; Stets ; Turner, 2006; Wosnitza ; Volet, 2005). This would support the view that emotion cannot (or should not) be considered separate from the learning environment (Brookfield, 2006; Lehman, 2006; Lipman, 2003).
When referring to emotion and the online student, much of the research focus has been aimed at emotion as experienced by the student; this has ranged from the apprehension or confusion experienced when faced with having to access and navigate an online platform (Wegerif, 1998; Cleveland-Innes ; Campbell, 2012), to anxiety or frustration when dealing with some of the technical aspects of engagement and communication required for online learning (Ng, 2001; Hara and Kling, 2000). Positive emotions noted have included pride at receiving encouraging feedback on an assignment or excitement at mastering a particular online tool (O’Regan, 2003).

More current research, including that of Cleveland-Innes and Campbell (2012), Dunlap and Lowenthall (2011), Weiss (2000) have highlighted the need to include the role of the instructor in establishing an emotional online environment conducive to a student’s sense of “security, well-being, and self-confidence” (Weiss, 2000, p.3). It would appear, however, that very little focus has been afforded the potential impact of establishing an emotional presence in the online learning environment; intentionally moulded by a third-party, for the explicit purpose of nurturing student wellness in order to promote module success rate and increased student retention.

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4. EXPECTED CONTRIBUTION OF THE STUDY
Generally, the expected contribution of research is in the areas of theory-creation, adjustments to existing policies and best-practices. The aim here would be to address policy and practice by gaining greater insight into the impact (or perhaps lack thereof) of intentionally creating a supportive emotional presence in online learning for the explicit purpose of promoting student wellness, improving module success rate and student retention.

5. METHODOLOGY TO BE FOLLOWED
Qualitative
a. Semi-directed Interviews – individual
b. Focus Groups
c. Interrogating existing organisational documentation

6. AVAILABILITY OF THE DATA
• Access to approx. 1000 tertiary students enrolled in an online degree qualification. (2016 to present). Students will, however, be selected based on their ability to provide rich, thick information.
• Purposive sampling will be used initially to select research respondents.
• Interviews will be conducted until data-saturation has been achieved.
• Access to existing organisational documents – used to verify information obtained.

7. LIST OF REFERENCES
Barbalet, J. (2002). Introduction: Why emotions are crucial. In J. Barbalet (Ed.), Emotions and Sociology (pp. 1–19). Oxford: Blackwell.
Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The skilful teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cleveland-Innes, M., ; Campbell, P. (2012). Emotional Presence, Learning and the Online Learning Environment, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(4). online Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewFile/1234/2347 Accessed 30 August 2018.
Dunlap, J.C., ; Lowenthal, P.R. (in press). The power of presence: Our quest for the right mix of social presence in online courses. In A.P. Mizell ; A. A. Piña (Eds.) Real life distance education: Case studies in practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Hara, N. ; Kling, R. (2000). Students’ distress with a Web-based distance education course: An
ethnographic study of participants’ experiences, Center for Social Informatics, Indiana University, Working paper, online Available at: http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/710/620
Accessed 28 August 2018.

LeDoux, J. (1999). The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life, London: Phoenix.

LeDoux, J. (2002). The synaptic self: How our brains become who we are. New York: Penguin.
Lehman, R. (2006). The role of emotion in creating instructor and learner presence in the distance education experience. Journal of Cognitive Affective Learning, 2(2): 12– 26.
Lipman, M. (1991). Thinking in education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ng, K-C. (2001). Using e-mail to foster collaboration in distance education. Open Learning, 16(2): 191-200.

O’Regan, K. (2003). Emotion and E-Learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3).
Plutchick, R. (2003). Emotions and life. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Asso¬ciation.
Stets, J. E., & Turner, J. H. (Eds.) (2006). Handbook of the sociology of emotions. New York: Springer.
Värlander, S. (2008). The role of students’ emotions in formal feedback situations. Teach¬ing in Higher Education, 13(2): 145–156.
Wegerif, R. (1998). The social dimension of asynchronous learning networks. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 2(1).
Weiss, R. (2002). Humanizing the online classroom. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2000(84): 47-51.
Wosnitza, M., ; Volet, S. (2005). Origin, direction and impact of emotions in social online learning. Learning and Instruction, 15(5): 449–464.

8. REASONS WHY I AM INTERESTED IN THE TOPIC
I have been involved in the development and rollout of an online model of delivery for an established tertiary institution. A key element of this model is that of the Programme Success Tutor (PST) whose role it is to focus on student wellness and to provide students with support across their programme of study; rather than on a module-basis as their instructor would. I am interested to investigate the extent to which this emotional support presence has impacted on module success rate and student retention amoung these online students: does providing students with an emotional online presence by a third-party (the PST) have a meaningful impact on their sense of wellness, module success rate and retention, or does the presence of this role make no significant difference?