New paper published in Interactive Learning Environments

Read it here (first 50 copies are free) or here (Researchgate)

This blog post is based on this Twitter thread

The paper “Pathway to presence” is about ambient awareness, a concept I first heard about in a paper by Levordashka & Utz (2016). Ambient awareness is the idea that in social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook or Twitter, you can get to know others in your network by merely browsing, without actually engaging in any kind of interaction. Through this, you slowly learn more about the people in your network, possibly without even noticing. Ambient awareness is still a relatively new construct and has, so far, not been investigated in research concerning technology and education

According to the SIPS model of online learning, forming impressions of other students is a necessary prerequisite to perceiving social presence. Maybe ambient awareness can help us understand how social presence emerges in online learning environments? So, we decided to investigate if we could find evidence for ambient awareness in online learning environments like Moodle. Inspired by the Twitter paradigm reported in Levordashka & Utz (2016), we presented students (n=51) with a random set of profiles of their fellow students at the end of a four-week online class and asked them to indicate (1) the degree of impression formation on different parameters, e.g. personality, competence, warmth etc., as well as (2) if they had interacted. If students were able to report any degree of impressions formation without having interacted, we interpreted this as an instance of ambient awareness.

Our data suggests that about half of our student sample did indeed form impressions of their peers through ambient awareness. Interestingly, these impressions differed a bit from the ones gathered through actual interaction. As expected, ambient awareness was also correlated with two measures of activity (around r=.5), indicating that the more time students spent in the learning environment and the more they engaged in different activities, the more ambient awareness they experienced.

To investigate the theoretical link to social presence, we collected data in a second sample (n=169) using self-report measures for sociability of the environment, social interaction, social presence, and ambient awareness. We hypothesized that ambient awareness may function as mediator between sociability of the environment and social presence. If so, there would be two pathways to social presence, social interaction and ambient awareness. Indeed, our mediation analysis suggests a partial mediation.

To conclude, our findings suggest that (1) ambient awareness can emerge in online learning environments, (2) impressions formed through ambient awareness may differ in some ways from impressions formed through interaction, and (3) social presence emerges through two different mechanisms. Social interaction has long been a straight-forward candidate because through interacting and communicating, you will get to know the other person. This has been shown to be the case in previous research (Weidlich & Bastiaens, 2017). What is new is the idea that social presence may also emerge through ambient awareness, because, here too, impressions may form that are prerequisite for social presence.


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