In Spring of 2013, I was enrolled in doctoral class along with six other face-to-face individuals and three online students.  We met synchronously every other week and our interactions were mediated by video conferencing technology.  Initially, the online students used GoToMeeting to join the class and as such, they appeared as a mosaic of students on a display at the back of the room.  As the face-to-face students sat in a circle, the online students were on the periphery – not part of the immediate conversation.

We then had the idea (and by we, I mean the Design Studio team) to bring the online students closer to the conversation.  We decided to make use of the iPads in the room and provide them with their own physical space to occupy among the face-to-face students.  As such, we used Skype to “beam” them in to the center of the class.  We called this the personal portal synchromodal model.

Working in the Design Studio, we wear multiple hats.  So we took off our designer hats and put on our researcher caps.  We saw this novel learning environment as an opportunity to measure the presence of all individuals in the class.  Presence is an important factor in technology-mediated experiences as it describes an individual’s sense of feeling connected with the virtual environment (Lombard, Ditton, & Weinstein, 2009).  To measure presence, we adapted the Temple Presence Inventory, a tool that measures (on a Likert scale from one to seven) the different dimensions of presence (full description of dimensions and items here).  Going forward with this mini-study, we wanted to answer the following questions:

  1. How do the online students perceive their own presence?
  2. How do the face-to-face individuals perceive the presence of the online students?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Even though we asked the online students about their own sense of presence, we did NOT ask the face-to-face individuals about their own sense of presence.  We asked the face-to-face individuals about what they thought of the online students’ presence in class.

The data collected revealed a very interesting finding: The use of the personal portal to promote a sense of presence for the online students seemed to impact the face-to-face individuals more so than their online counterparts.  Here’s a graph comparing the mean ratings for each question.

Mean rating comparison

You’ll notice that the face-to-face students’ mean responses were higher (indicating a larger sense of presence) than those of the online students.  What does this mean exactly?  Whereas the face-to-face students felt the presence of the online students in their immediate environment, it seemed that the latter did not feel as present in the face-to-face environment as their counterparts felt they were.  Again, in other words:  The face-to-face students benefited more than the online students from the personal portal model and felt that the online students were more present in the classroom environment than the online students felt present themselves.



Lombard, M., Ditton, T. B., & Weinstein, L. (2009). Measuring presence: the temple presence inventory. In Proceedings of the 12th Annual International Workshop on Presence. Retrieved from

 This information was presented in March, 2014 at the 25th annual meeting of the Society of Information Technology in Teacher Education (SITE) in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can find the presentation file here.

Paper Citation
Sawaya, S. & Cain, W. (2014). Virtual Presence in a Synchromodal Learning Environment. In M. Searson & M. Ochoa (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2014 (pp. 431-436). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.





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