Social Presence & Co-construction

Week 3: This week’s focus was on varying definitions of the concept of Social Presence and its importance in education.

Although there are differing definitions of Social Presence (see Lowenthal & Snelson, 2017), I found Garrison and Arbaugh’s definition of Social Presence within the Community of Inquiry framework to be a useful starting point; they define social presence as the ability of members of a community to establish themselves as ‘real’ people; but they expand upon this idea by stating that the relationship formed through social presence must be purposeful in order to support cognitive activities. (2007, p. 160).

Garrison and Arbaugh acknowledge that the importance of Social Presence varies depending on the nature of the learning environment, but I would argue that it because increasingly importance within any environment (online or F2F) where group work or collaborative learning is the primary learning modality. I think Social Presence serves not only to establish relationships between members of a group, but also helps establish trust and a sense of interdependence that might be necessary to compel individual to participate in the group activities. This is contrary to the idea of diffusion of responsibility discussed by Jocelyn (note 837), which may be a result of lower social presence and thus lower social accountability. Two other students in my group mentioned the concept of Collective Cognitive Responsibility (notes 767, 800), which requires students to “take responsibility for knowing what needs to be known and for insuring that others know what needs to be known” (Scardamalia, 2002, p. 68). The contrast between these two concepts intrigued me because it seems like the only difference is how accountable students felt to the others in their group.

The implications of this when designing a CMC activity would be that establishing affective and open communication is a prerequisite for creating a cohesive learning community (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007).

My thought (note 695) was to potentially design an activity for Medical Students in which they reflected on their choice to because a doctor and shared these reflection with their peers as a way to because acquainted and start building these social relationships while still maintaining a focus on academic goals.


  • Brindley, J. E., Walti, C. and Blaschke, L. M. (2009). Creating Effective Collaborating Learning Groups in an Online Environment. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10(3).
  • Garrison, D. Randy, and J.B. Arbaugh. (2007) “Researching the Community of Inquiry Framework: Review, Issues, and Future Directions.” Internet and Higher Education, vol. 10,  pp. 157–172.
  • Lowenthal, P. R. & Snelson, C. (2017). In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence. Distance Education, 38(2), 141-159. (attached)
  • Scardamalia, M. (2002). Collective Cognitive Responsibility for the Advancement of Knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.), Liberal Education in a Knowledge Society (pp. 67-98). Chicago, IL: Open Court.

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