Before computers became ubiquitous, Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) developed the theory of social presence to explain how people use telecommunications and the effect the medium could have on the communication process. They defined social presence as the "degree of salience of the other person in a mediated communication and the consequent salience of their interpersonal interactions" (p. 65). Salience, meaning the awareness of another person, can be created through the social context, which includes the task, process of the task, privacy and topics involved; perceived proficiency using the mediated communication; and interactivity of the communicators (Tu & McIsaac, 2002). Early researchers posited that social presence was an attribute of the communication medium (Daft & Lengel, 1986; Walther 1996), however, more recent research indicates that social process can be cultivated (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997).
Whiteside and Garret Dikkers (2011) argue that social presence is really about the level of connectedness of person feels when engaging in computer mediated communication and is a factor in how active a role the person takes in constructing knowledge for both themselves and their peers. To support identification of evidence of social presence in online learning environments, Whiteside (2007) proposed a five element model:
- Affective association – words indicating emotional connections
- Community cohesion – words that indicate the participants see the group as a community such as greetings and group references
- Interaction intensity – questions, references and answers to each other's questions
- Knowledge and experiences – relaying personal knowledge and experiences to the group
- Instructor investment – the instructor participates consistently to guide and extend the discussion
Daft, R. L., & Lengel, R. H. (1986). Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design. Management Science, 32(5), 554-571.
Gunawardena, C. N., & Zittle, F. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), 8-26.
Short, J., Williams, E., & Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. London: John Wiley & Sons
Tu, C.-H., & McIsaac, M. (2002). The relationship of social presence and interaction in online classes. The American Journal of Distance Education, 16(3), 131-150.
Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23(1), 3-43.
Whiteside, A. & Garrett Dikkers, A. (2011). Using the social presence model to maximize interactions in online environments. In St. Amant, K. & Kelsey, S (Eds.) Computer-mediated communication across cultures: International interactions in online environment. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.