Affording “Social Presence” with GroveShark

A recent article in AECT’s TechTrends (July/August 2010), Using Digital Music to Enhance Student’s Experience in Online Courses by Joanna C. Dunlap and Patrick R. Lowenthal, informed my design of a new fine arts music appreciation course. The article describes how incorporating digital music into a course design can:

  • Humanize, personalize, and energize online courses by enhancing social presence through student-to-student interaction;
  • Tap into students’ interests, and elicit positive feelings and associations; and
  • Involve student in a relevant and meaningful student-to-content interaction by engaging them in active knowledge construction.

Being a music appreciation course, its content already included 100s of musical samples from artists and composers across the globe. The primary goal of this course was to give students an awareness of the music that is out there. In its first time “out of the box” this course section of 8 weeks, included over 1000 of threads of rich discussion. Yes. This is most definitely a unique for an 8 week online course. The discussion prompts were no different from other 8 week courses asking the students to respond, critique, compare/contrast content in the course, etc. So why the high volume of discussion?

There are some differences between this course and others. While the main content was musical samples, I do not believe the music itself is what drove the high volume of discussion threads. So what did?

While I do not have control data to back the generalization that I am about to make, I believe that this course’s high volume of student interaction in the discussion area is primarily to two discussion questions in the Week 1 discussion involving GroveShark. The response to these threads was astounding with every student making at least one initial post and many students responding to ten or more of their classmates. Here are the prompts the instructor and I designed for the students to respond to:

Past, Present, & Future
As an introductory post in the discussion forum, please introduce yourself by telling us a little about your past, present, and future by connecting it to songs which represent the areas. If you can share links to the songs through GrooveShark that would be great! At minimum please let us know the artist’s name and the title of the song.

Music Interests
Please share with the class a little about your music interests. If you can share links to the songs through GrooveShark that would be great! What type(s) of music do you like best?

  • What type(s) of music do you know the most about?
  • Can you identify the person(s) who have most influenced your taste in music?
  • What type(s) of music do you know the least about and hope to learn about in this course?

So why were students so engaged in these posts? I believe these posts afforded a great amount of “social presence.” So I believe in the information presented in Dunlap and Lowenthal’s article:

When we design and teach online courses, we build in authentic and relevant opportunities for our students to interact, connect, and present themselves as real people (Dunlap, Dobrovolny, & Young, 2008; Dunlap, Furtak, & Tucker, 2008; Dunlap, Sobel & Sands, 2007). Students see these opportunities to socially interact and connect with others as foundational attributes of our courses. Further, research suggests that opportunities like these influence students’ perception of the overall learning experience (Richardson & Swan, 2003; Tung & Deng, 2006). As a result, we have been using music as one of a number of ways to help students interact and connect with each other.

While we could not identify specific research on music and social presence in online courses, researchers have found that music can inform people about the presence and mood of others (Röcker & Etter, 2007), provide a sense of presence in educational virtual environments (Robertson, de Quincey, Stapleford, & Wiggins, 1998), and increase people’s perceptions about the social richness of a medium (Kallinen, 2004). Further, and perhaps most importantly, music can help promote social interactions (Panksepp & Bernatzky, 2002), specifically the types of social interactions that are needed to connect with others and be perceived as real in online courses. (TechTrends July/August 2010, Using Digital Music to Enhance Student’s Experience in Online Courses, pg. 60)

GroveShark was not mentioned as a popular digital music website in the article because it perhaps came after the article’s print. GroveShark is an amazing online tool that allows users to search, share links to individual songs, and create/share playlists with all of the music on the internet. Users can also upload their own songs from their personal collection and share using the methods above as well. These songs are shared on the internet and not available for download which allows for copyright to be maintained. The interface is extremely useable and best of all, it is free.

Check it out and incorporate it into your design…

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About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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