Social Presence and Context-Awareness
for Knowledge Transformation in an
Raymond M. Kekwaletswe
Centre for Educational Technology
U n i v e r s i t y of C a p e T o w n
One of the most fundamental facets of learning is the social interaction
in which knowledge is an outcome of individuals sharing experiences.
In a contact university, learners generally perform learning tasks in
informal contexts or non- academic settings.
As learners move across different learning contexts, they do not have
access to the same social networks for knowledge sharing and
The lack of social presence awareness makes it difficult to provide
them with context sensitive and anywhere anytime support as learning
One of the prevailing educational challenges in a South African
university is that of providing tailored social support to under prepared
For these learners, the potential of personalized support on
learning experiences through social awareness could be huge.
Learners at the University of Cape Town come from very diverse
backgrounds, with different languages and cultures.
Social awareness of knowledgeable peers with shared background
regardless of a learning location could enrich learning experience and
This presentation is on how social presence awareness, afforded by
mobile instant messaging (IM), is used to support knowledge
transformation as a learner traverses varied contexts.
Knowledge is an ambiguous, unspecific and dynamic phenomenon,
intrinsically related to meaning, understanding and process.
It is fundamentally intertwined with social settings in which it is
Knowledge transfer is ultimately a human-to-human process.
Since this process is inherently interactive and dynamic, the
knowledge, in essence, transforms while or during the very process of
Knowledge transformation is, therefore, a social process which occurs
when there is a shift in knowledge due to the social interaction.
Knowledge Social Space
Social setting or context in which knowledge is encountered contributes
to its meaning.
Mindful of this, our view of ideal social presence awareness for
knowledge transformation is one that is sensitive to the background of
a learner, culture and language.
The shared background, therefore, affords shared interpretations or
Shared meanings are very important to social interaction transpiring via
mobile instant messaging.
The meaning of the text in IM interaction derives from its context. In
other words, knowledge is socially constructed when IM text message
is socially and contextually interpreted.
Knowledge, Social Presence
& Context Awareness
The emphasis of this presentation is on how social presence and
context awareness is used in the exchange of knowledge among
Knowledge transformation is the outcome of learners sharing
experiences while building helpful and socially rewarding networks of
For social interaction to begin taking place, learners ought to be aware
of the social presence of available social resources.
In the next slides, we discuss theories of social presence and context
awareness, conceptual model and conclusion.
Concept of Presence
Presence, although broadly defined as the sense of ‘being there’ in
a mediated environment, can be conceptualized in a number of
These multidimensional conceptualizations, however, can be
grouped into two broad categories—social and physical presence
The physical category refers to the sense of being physically located
Social category refers to being and communicating with someone
Social Presence Theory
“Social presence,” initially proposed by Short, Williams, and
Christie (1976) as “technical social presence,”
was defined as the capacity of the medium itself to present
the “salience of the other person in interpersonal interaction”
Short, et. al. contended that different communication media convey
varying degrees of social presence based on their ability to transmit
nonverbal and vocal information.
Challenged by researchers in the field who showed that perceived
social presence in mediated interactions varies among participants.
They thus argued that social presence was as much a matter of
individual perceptions as an objective quality of the medium.
Consequently, redefining social presence as “the degree to which a
person is perceived as ‘real’ in mediated communication”
Rourke, et al (2001) regarded social presence as one of the three
fundamental “presences” that support learning, the other two being
cognitive presence and teaching presence
Defining it as “the ability of learners to project themselves socially and
affectively into a community of inquiry”
They identified three categories of social presence indicators --
affective responses, cohesive responses, and interactive responses:
Affective responses contain personal expressions of emotion,
feelings, beliefs, and values.
Cohesive responses are communication behaviors that build and
sustain a sense of group commitment, e.g. greetings and
salutations and group or personal reference.
Interactive responses are behaviors that provide evidence that
others are attending, e.g. agreement/disagreement, approval and
referencing previous messages.
Context can be understood as the situation in which the
individual or a group of learners find themselves.
Accordingly, context is defined as any information that can be
used to characterize the situation of an entity.
An entity is a person, place, or object that is considered relevant
to the interaction between a user and an application
Our view is that awareness of social presence is a useful characteristic
of a learning environment in which a mobile learner is engaged in a
knowledge and learning activity.
Accepting this premise, there are three challenges:
Firstly, the learner’s engagement with a knowledge transforming
activity is not fixed to particular locations.
Secondly, learning environments exist to support learning and
when a learner moves the environment ought to move with a
Thirdly, the learner ought to be aware of a social presence while
engaged with a location independent learning task and knowledge
In this regard, the problem is Formal contexts: Interaction in
that of ensuring that the quality these spaces is usually one-way
of resources remains consistent from instructor to learner. The
for supporting a learning task instructor delivers lectures, and
regardless of the location of a a learner either takes notes or is
learner. given a handout. Learning is
We use the term resources often passive
pragmatically to mean peers, Semi-contexts: represent
tutors, instructors etc. informal spaces on campus.
There are three types of Most instructors schedule
contexts within which a learner consultations, often no ad hoc
is mobile and for which a consultations.
learner needs support: In-formal contexts include
Formal contexts working during after-hours,
week-ends; in residences, or
home. In these spaces, a
In-formal contexts learner may use his or her
mother tongue language to
consult with peers
We sought to provide Our context-aware
ubiquitous learning support consultation environment
to a learner as he or she supports a learner (who)
traverses the three contexts, as he or she engages with
Our goal is to create a the learning materials
context-aware consultation (what), whether in the
system. formal, semi or informal
Context-aware applications learning contexts
look at the who’s, where’s, (where), anytime (when)
when’s and what’s of through the use of
entities and use this
information to determine why context-aware social
the situation is occurring. presence mechanisms.
An application doesn’t
actually determine why a
situation is occurring
Lonsdale et al (2004) proposed a context model hierarchy to provide a
hierarchical description of context as a dynamic process with historical
The model had three features:
Context (what’s going on over time);
Context state (elements from the learning and setting at one particular time,
space, or goal sequence);
Context sub-state (elements from the learner and setting that are relevant to
the current focus of learning and desired level of context awareness).
The goal of the context model was to develop a learner-centered
approach to context awareness.
Although we share the learner centered approach, we differ in the
implementation of the context-awareness.
In our proposition, the mobile learner has access to the same social
network and resources regardless of his or her location or learning
Mobile learner environment
P1 P2 P3 P4 P5
Social Presence Awareness T
T Social Presence Awareness
L T Peer
P = Learner with a learning task/problem
Mobile lecturer, tutor and peer T =Tutor
environment L = Lecturer
Social Presence & Context-Aware
In the conceptual model (preceding slide), context-awareness and social
presence are achieved via mobile instant messaging (IM). Current
pilots involve the use of an IM client installed on pocket PCs.
The need for a WiFi enabled PDA is to support synchronous interaction in varied contexts
using wireless network hotspots.
In our view, social awareness is a mental concept where a learner becomes
aware of the social network that follows him or her while moving across the
different learning contexts.
In the model, a learner is consciously aware of available tutors, lecturers and
knowledgeable peers should they encounter a learning problem for which they
need to consult.
By the same token, a peer is consciously aware of other mobile learners as well
as available experts (lecturers or tutors).
Learners access a consistent quality of social network and resources. The social
network provides a necessary social interaction whose outcome is knowledge
transformation in the mind of a learner.
Although the mobile IM environment is serving as a useful source of
context information on available sources of consultable peers, some of
the current challenges include:
Access problems to PDA devices or wireless hotspots.
Integrating IM with the location awareness that is built into cellular
Seamless interface between the mobile IM client and the online
consultation system (developed at UCT) called Dynamic Frequently
Asked Questions, is under investigation.
In view of the fact that learning and knowledge transformation are location and time independent, mobile
instant messaging allows learners the unusual presence awareness of available social resources they can
draw upon for consultation.
We have shown how social presence awareness is used to support a learner. Our conceptual model is a
learning environment that supports the mobility of a learner, continuously assuring him or her of consistent
access to social networks and resources.
We have shown how ubiquitous communication and social interaction through the use of a context-aware
social presence mechanism is employed to support a learner as he or she traverses the formal, semi-
formal, and informal learning contexts.
Although social network and resources are static, they move with the learner through social awareness
presence, regardless of a learning context. Therefore, social presence afforded by instant messaging could
successfully maintain social networks constituted for anywhere, anytime knowledge transformation.
We have also highlighted some of the implementation challenges with our model which we are addressing
using pragmatic approaches.
We approached mobile instant messaging in its local context of supporting social interaction in a South
African higher education environment, where personalized academic support is a growing need but delivery
is fraught with challenges.
Hence, the synchronous mobile IM allows us to determine the local value it brings to learning and
knowledge sharing, as well as its place among other media of social and educational communication.
The envisaged future work of the mobile IM environment will
allow learners to:
pick up knowledgeable peers or tutors who are nearest to
their location and available for interaction based on hotspot
This mobile IM environment through its social presence
awareness feature will show a learner:
who among his or her social network is available for a
potential immediate and impromptu face-to-face
Ke lebogile! Thank you!