Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Individual agency

being there_resizedOne dimension of my presence construct is individual agency. The basic question for individual agency is, to what extent do we have the power to carry out actions toward an end we desire or need, in the virtual world?  A sense of personal power is an essential ingredient for the sense of presence as I’ve conceptualized it (the result of an ongoing collaborative action-based process, a contextualized human experience of collaborative learning activity that evolves over time).

A theory-based understanding of agency in a virtual world describes an individual’s ability to interact with a virtual environment, to manipulate objects and the environment with tools (that they can either appropriate, or develop) or with the help of others, to produce an effect according to a desired or needed end (motivation and intention).

A minimalist example of individual agency would be found in an interactive simulation, where, for example, the aspects of an ecological niche could be manipulated, and the results seen (e.g., environmental changes leading to changes in predator and prey populations).

Practical Application in Course Design and Teaching Practice

The instructor can create learning experiences that provide authentic choices to students, allow for self-direction, provide feedback, make sure every learner’s contribution and thinking are “visible” (recognized as valuable), and provide an environment where learners can “start, create and validate meaning through reflection” (Lehman & Conceicao, 2010).


Lehman, M. & Conceicao, S. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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