Beyond Student Perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course

Anthony Picciano


The research literature on Web-based learning supports the assumption that interaction is important for a successful course, yet questions exist regarding the nature and extent of the interaction and its effects on student performance. Much of the research is based on student perceptions of the quality and quantity of their interactions and how much they have learned in an online course. The purpose of this study is to examine performance in an online course in relationship to student interaction and sense of presence in the course. Data on multiple independent (measures of interaction and presence) and dependent (measures of performance) variables were collected and subjected to analysis. An attempt was made to go beyond typical institutional performance measures such as grades and withdrawal rates and to examine measures specifically related to course objectives.


Distance learning, Interaction, Presence, Social presence, Learning effectiveness, Outcomes, Student performance, Asynchronous learning, Computer-mediated learning, Computer-mediated communications, Education administration


Interaction may indicate presence but it is also possible for a student to interact by posting a message on an electronic bulletin board while not necessarily feeling that she or he is a part of a group or a class. If they are different, then it is also possible that interaction and presence can affect student performance independently.
The major research questions that guided this study are as follows:
1. What is the relationship between actual student interaction/participation and performance?
2. What is the relationship between student perception of social presence and performance?
3. What is the relationship between student perceptions of social presence and actual
4. Are there differences in student perceptions of their learning experiences and actual
5. Are there differences in student perceptions of their interaction and actual participation?
The course was organized into thirteen weekly themes and topics. The Web site for the course included a
syllabus, reading assignments, weekly discussion topics and questions, supplementary reading material,
and related links. These materials were always available and served as the organizational anchors for the
course. Each topic was organized for an asynchronous discussion on an electronic discussion board
during a specific week and was based on assigned readings and case studies. Four students were selected
each week to work with the instructor as discussion facilitators. The use of students as facilitators was
designed to encourage them to be contributors to and not simply receivers of learning activities. Once the
discussion of a topic commenced on Sunday morning, any student could contribute to the discussion, ask
a question of another student or the instructor. At the end of the week’s discussion on the following
Saturday, the instructor summarized the topic, added additional notes and comments, and posted these to
the Web site for access by the entire class.
Techniques to encourage social presence and a sense of community were used throughout the course.
Data on actual student participation in online discussions were collected throughout the semester. Students also completed a satisfaction survey at the end of the course, which asked a series of questions addressing their overall experiences, especially as related to their learning and interaction with others and the technology used. A series of questions elate to social presence was included as part of this survey.
The results of this study support the findings in other research which establish a strong relationship between students' perceptions of the quality and quantity of their interaction and their perceived performance in an online course.

APA Citation

Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous learning networks, 6(1), 21-40.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Survey research (qualitative or quantitative)
Intervention/Areas of Study Social presence
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Graduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest Masters-granting
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Professions
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades
Student Sample Size 0-99
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