Authentication Of Presence In Online Courses Aimed At Building Self-Realization Competencies


This article presents the results of a phenomenological analysis of the reflexive reports of students from a massive open online course (MOOC) “Vocational Psychology”, using it as a case of distance online courses aimed at the formation of personal competences. The main purpose of the research was to understand the experience of introducing and interpreting reflexive data, and to clarify the purposefulness of reflexive forms “in the body” of distance courses. The qualitative analysis revealed four temporal characteristics (directions) of the presence of students in the environment of e-learning, indicating the quality of a student’s interaction with the course (authors, teachers and the content) communicated and moderated via information technology: outward and towards the past, outward and towards the future, inward and towards the past, inward and towards the future. A reflective practice was introduced in the course allowing the monitoring of authentication trends, that is, to see how different individuals’ presences, of teachers and students, are consistent in common for the whole of educational events. The article continues the authors’ research project on the problem of authentication in psychological and educational practices. The concept of involvement based on the modern ideology of education that requires the priority of authentication over identification and motivation. Currently, authentication techniques are being intensively developed, including directed and controlled reflection.

Keywords: Reflectionpresenceauthenticationidentitypersonal competencese-learning


In modern society and education, by means of both natural and ideological mechanisms, there is a growing tendency to increase the time of presence of students, teachers and materials in the environment of online courses. It assumes that an increasing percentage of information and educational effects will be concentrated in the interaction environment mediated by modern digital technologies, up to their quantitative dominance over the common interactions. It is also assumed that the involvement of subjects of education in e-learning will increase. At the same time the psychological nature of human presence in the online learning environment is barely studied, and the desired and the expected understanding often significantly exceeds the real understanding, real significance and effectiveness. Due to the rapid implementation of new techniques the understanding of what students actually feel and experience in online education cannot be formed naturally and requires intensive study including the introduction of techniques for gathering and analyzing new types of data. We define this problem as a problem of authentication that is the clarification of the quality of human presence in the educational environment. To perform the authentication of presence is possible through the analysis of reflexive data, because reflection shows the situation on the whole: it reflects the learner's activity and the learning environment. The initial stage of this kind of research is the phenomenological analysis of the texts expressing the experience of students of online courses. When enough data is accumulated and when the basic semantic characteristics are explicated, it is possible to start quantitative research projects and apply technological solutions.

This article presents the results of the phenomenological analysis of the reflexive statements of the students of a massive open online course “Vocational Psychology”, developed at the Tomsk State University (TSU) and implemented on the platform.

Problem Statement

There is a growing tendency for modern education to mobilize personal potential, to build an educational process based on independence, identity, and self-organization of students. The content of the courses and, accordingly, the time of the students' presence in the course shifts from traditional classrooms to the electronic environment. The intensity of this process does not give a clear understanding of the quality of students’ presence in the electronic educational environment during the development and implementation of courses. Therefore, it is necessary to study the quality of presence during the educational process and when a course is in process. Educational platforms often imply simple statistics and rough calculations of the amount of the registered students, number of visits, approvals or disapprovals, and students’ performance based on the accomplished assignments. But this kind of information does not say anything about what actually happens to a person in an electronic educational environment. Firstly, students are individual and average data about all of them say little about a particular person. Secondly, such characteristics of presence are easy to imitate. We propose to use reflexive data to perform the authentication and to understand the quality of presence in the electronic environment. This allows to analyze the data and processes at varying degrees of depth and complexity, and to implement systemic and interpretative approaches.

Research Questions

Digital and network (information) technologies are expected to facilitate interactions between people, to resolve restrictions related to geographical, economic, and administrative barriers, improving the accessibility of both network objects (information resources) and subjects (people making decisions and initiating communications), which leads to improving the quality of human life. However, despite numerous advantages there is still an open question about what, in fact, we gain when the education is shifted to the online environment? How complete, alive, and holistic is the presence of students in the educational course? Do we perceive some educational resource as an educational event?

Unfortunately, these questions today are not political priorities; they give away to pragmatic considerations, desires, and readiness to invest in new technologies, to win in the situation of redistribution of roles in education, etc. There is no doubt that at some level this issue will become inevitable and, in some sense, it is inevitable already. For example, for copyright holders of a distance learning course seeking to monetize their educational potential, it is important to understand why their students must accomplish the course, pass the assignments, keep deadlines, and buy certificates; what does the access to the course really mean to students?

The use of electronic educational systems and distance courses is becoming more widespread in the system of higher education, changing not only the structure of curricula and the educational process (the requirements of state educational programs and standards (Budenkova, 2016)), but also creating a new intentional, intonational basis of human presence in the educational experience (Hurd, 2007). At the same time, the main element of informatization is the technical transformation of the educational environment: when the system as a whole or some of its elements is shifted into a virtual environment, which gives the subjects of education more freedom. For example, students can build their own individual learning paths (Sakovich & Pavlova, 2015); educational organizations can expand their audience, create and maintain their reputation. Technical solutions, however, must be preceded by meaningful solutions, for which it is necessary to understand reality, and not just expectations. It should be taken into consideration that in the process of transformation of the educational environment subjects of the educational process also change and begin to play other roles and therefore they need a different feedback. All this requires posing a question regarding the quality of subjects’ presence in the educational environment. The problem is finding answers to these questions by means of phenomenological analyses of students’ reflexive reports.

Purpose of the Study

This study is part of the research program on the problem of authentication of presence in modern educational environments, which has been implemented at TSU for several years. This article presents a phenomenological analysis of the reflexive opinions of students of a massive open online course aimed at the formation of personal competencies. Courses aimed at the formation of personal competencies have their own specifics, implying an active involvement from students, their contribution to the educational situation. In addition, such courses are not aimed at one particular result, but imply a multitude of results at different levels. Therefore, the degree of the achievement of the results does not give relevant information about the quality of presence. We assume that the clarification of the quality of students’ presence in the environment of the course by means of studying their reflection allows identifying fundamentals for improving the educational environment and for intensifying specific educational processes.

Research Methods

Materials and data.

The design of our research could be called a natural experiment. The experimental situation is the online course “Vocational Psychology”, developed at TSU and implemented on the platform. This course along with other courses was integrated into the system of basic and additional education, which brings the issue of its place, role and the conditions that meet the learning objectives. The content of the course contains a comprehensive idea of a special quality of reflection related to mindsets for calling and coercion, to the formation of sensitivity to imperatives of vocation. Briefly, this idea could be expressed by the aphorism: “The one who does not live by vocation will live by coercion”, and we could add: “until he starts living by vocation”. The structure of the course includes reflexive forms in which students are invited to reflect on their experience of presence in the course. These forms were the main tools of obtaining the data. The data were processed by means of phenomenological analysis. Phenomenological interpretations were grouped into four semantic areas, formed by the dichotomies of the past and the future, the internal and the external. In the result we gained phenomenological descriptions of the meanings of the students’ presence in this course. Moreover, the students’ meanings were compared with the goals, expectations and meanings of the course authors.

Methods and measures.

The main fundamental method the research team used is the significant events research method which was developed in the second half of the XX century (R. Elliott, L. Timulak, E. Slatick, etc.). The method was elaborated further by modern scientists who also developed special forms for collecting reflexive data (J. MacLeod, M. Cooper, O.V. Lukyanov, A.A. Stipek). The reflexive forms allow adapting the data collection procedures to the specific conditions of the educational environment, including those which could be introduced into the e-course environment.

Currently, the research team mainly uses qualitative methods to interpret reflexive data such as: thematic analysis and phenomenological analysis. With the accumulation of data, we also proceed with the quantitative analysis, selecting appropriate mathematical approaches. A number of articles have already been published on this issue (Stipek & Lukyanov, 2017; Shushanikova & Lukyanov, 2016; Lutz, 2009).


The results of the study on the authentication of presence in the educational environment are the correspondences (of meanings) that are identified when comparing expectations (declarations) usually coming from the authors of the course and teachers, and the reflective opinions of students about the experience of their presence in the course.

Whereas our project implies a perspective for e-learning in general, and not just for improving courses aimed at developing personal competencies, we should pay some attention to the analysis of the declarations and the experience of using digital technologies.

Modern research projects in the field of e-education are mainly aimed at comparative evaluation of the effectiveness of traditional and e-learning approaches to the formation of special and general cultural competences. The results of these studies sometimes support traditional methods, and sometimes innovative and information methods. The evaluation often depends on the method and criteria of evaluation, determined by the position of the researcher (Brinson, 2015). The question of the quality of presence in the educational process is relevant because it reveals psychological dimensions, allowing to reconcile the objective characteristics with the reflexive data.

In current mostly foreign studies aimed at identifying various aspects of “social presence” and its imitation in virtual educational environment much attention is paid to the analysis of the temporal characteristics of communication and psychological distance. The concept of “social presence” that emerged in the third quarter of the last century (Hurd, 2007; Aragon, 2003) is of particular importance in studies devoted to distance learning. The phenomenon of social presence reveals a complex structure, including not only the characteristics of interaction, but also various elements of the organization of the educational environment (Aragon, 2003; Tu & McIsaac, 2010).

The problem of authentication of presence in the educational environment implies multidimensionality and chronotopy. At this stage, we have to admit that individual studies and publications can be devoted to identifying certain aspects of presence. As data accumulates, it will be possible to move on to more systematic research.

In one of our previous studies (Lukyanov & Shushanikova, 2015), we performed the analysis of the experience of existence (presence) in the distance learning environment using a phenomenological interpretation of the reflexive reports of students. It was found that one of the specific factors of distance learning is the psychological distance between the process and the content of the course on the one hand and between its participants on the other (Lukyanov & Shushanikova, 2015). In this study, we focused on analyzing the temporal characteristics of the presence, on clarifying the understanding of what meanings are revealed by the students regarding their internal and external world, past and future.

Many scientists, in particular, A.D. Korol’ indicate that a dialogue is a necessary condition for emotional-value interaction in education, in which the online education has risks of disappearing due to the temporary incoherence of meanings of the participants. According to Korol this fact negatively affects the process of formation of a student's personality (Korol', 2011).

Basic fundamentals for understanding the role of a dialogue for a person are revealed in the works by O. Rosenstock-Huessy. In his philosophy speech is a means of establishing peace between people of different times, speech is a necessary condition for the formation of any general cultural competence, personality, human involvement in the social process, creative activity, and interaction in the social environment (Rosenstock-Huessy, 2008).

As a tool for categorizing and systematizing the experience of the presence in the distance course, we applied the binary dichotomy past-future and internal-external. According to O. Rosenstock-Huessy’s philosophy of a dialogue every human argument, expressed in language, refers necessarily to one of the directions of presence: inward and towards the past, inward and towards the future, outward and towards the past, and outward and towards the future (Rosenstock-Huessy, 2008). A man himself is the center of these directions and is called to keep himself in the tension and integrity of these times. A man is called to experience the past and the future as the present (the present, the real past and the future), and the inner and outer as complete, truly his outer and inner. We assume that e-education should strive to create authentic conditions for the presence of a person not only in his own, electronic environment, but also in real life.

The hypothesis of our research is: in the online course, in which an adequate experience of reflection is introduced, the presence of students is sufficiently authentic. This hypothesis cannot be yet proved quantitatively, because it requires specification not only regarding the problem of presence in online learning in general but also in each course in particular and even regarding each student. The study was designed with an aim to fill this hypothesis with meanings and understandings based on real experience.

The reflexive forms were composed in such a way that the students who responded to them were oriented into the four directions: outward and towards the past, and outward and towards the future, inward and towards the past, inward and towards the future. It was assumed that the study of the reality of these directions would be performed not only on the scale of the course, but also on the scale of the events included in the course. Events could be of different scales, for example, performing the assignments, watching video lectures, studying a particular topic, a text or some other course materials.

The meaning of the phenomenological interpretation in the context of the four temporal directions is to assess how complete the presence of students is and in what directions the risks of existential vacuum, existential frustration, incompleteness, and lack of presence could emerge. Tables 01 , 02 , 03 and 04 present examples from students’ reflexive reports, topics of reflection and phenomenological interpretation with regard to these four temporal directions.

Table 1 -
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The analysis of the reflexive experience of MOOC students has not yet led us to a sufficiently complete description of the meanings of presence in the e-learning environment. Nevertheless, our studies allow formulating recommendations regarding the development of training content for courses which imply the emergence of self-realization competencies.

The presence directed to the outward and towards the past is organized by tasks for simple reflection (reflection of actions, impressions). It is important that the action is related to the past experience of the students, or that the students are able to connect the activity with their past experiences. The experience of the outward past (trust experience) should be organized in the initial part of the course using “classical” tasks, reproducing effective and simple practices.

Table 2 -
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In creating a distance learning system there is a risk to reduce everything to technical aspects, for example, to reduce learning conditions to a timeframe (to deadlines). If we pay attention to how the temporal perspective of students is being formed, we could see that the presence of students in the online course is determined not so much by the future as by the present. The temporal perspective is very short, and in this case, the student’s attention cannot be ‘bought’ by certificates or other distant meanings. The stability of the presence is ensured by the significance of the course to the students, and not by some other benefits.

Table 3 -
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Summarizing the meanings revealed in the context of the direction of reflection inward and towards the past, we could state that this mode of presence allows authenticating the accuracy of assignments and messages, the availability and provocative wording.

Table 4 -
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In general, the mode of reflection directed inward and towards the future shows to what extent the presence in the electronic course is educational and therapeutic. This, of course, is not the main objective for every course, but firstly, a sense of frustration in this mode of presence could prevent the student from staying in the educational environment and accomplish his path. Secondly, if we believe in the dream of modern technocrats about the fact that e-learning will “conquer” the traditional forms, then the issue of the educational effect of the course will become relevant.


Qualitative research and analysis of cases do not allow making evidence-based statements. Our research was aimed at understanding the experience of introducing and interpreting reflexive data, clarifying the hypothesis about the purposefulness of reflexive forms “in the body” of distance courses. The generalized hypothesis that distance courses aimed at the formation of personal competencies could be authenticated through the analysis of reflexive statements, in this study the following points were clarified:

  • Even with the reflexive statements being simple in context and structure they are useful because they indicate the temporal characteristics of the presence of a student in the electronic educational environment. The accumulation of such data makes it possible to assess the integrity and completeness of the presence of the student in the course and enhancing the risky modes of presence with the participation of teachers in the form of discussions and assistance. We are able to form more precise recommendations regarding structure, assistance and improvement of the communication services by the analysis of the quality of presence through the reflection reports that provide new data along with the existing data based on assessments and technical information.

  • We recommend reflexive forms should become a required element of distance education, at least for some category of distance courses. Without clear understanding what is happening with the presence of students in the course environment, distance learning risks becoming a system of technical imitation of educational activities and risks losing the most important point that is characteristic for intensive and adequate education: the dialogue between the teacher and the student and the student with the material, which in electronic education does not happen directly but by information technologies. The moderation with information technologies implies many inconsistencies: in time (the authors of the course and the implementation systems of a course live in different times), in convictions (the course does not imply ideological training, but simply “immerses” in the teacher’s speech), in the intensity of presence (the authors of the course give less attention to it, whereas students are new each time and their renewal could be much more intense than a teacher could withstand), etc. The number of inconsistencies will grow as e-learning develops.

  • Further study of this kind and the accumulation of reflexive data could facilitate the development of e-learning not only in technical terms but also in accordance with the achievements and requirements of the humanities.]


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23 November 2018

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Educational psychology, child psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology

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Lukyanov, O. V., Stipek, A. A., & Chemerskoy, G. S. (2018). Authentication Of Presence In Online Courses Aimed At Building Self-Realization Competencies. In S. Malykh, & E. Nikulchev (Eds.), Psychology and Education - ICPE 2018, vol 49. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 380-391). Future Academy.