A model for the measurement and presentation of participation awareness in online groupware systems

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Computer and Security Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Sciences

First Advisor

Justin Brown

Second Advisor

Barbara Combes


The need to support effective group work in online environments has become a prominent issue in both education and enterprise. Universities continue to adopt constructivist-based learning strategies which see learners engage in group work to build knowledge, coupled with an increase in online and distance learners. In enterprise, where group or team based work is commonplace, the prevalence of the Internet has seen the emergence of teams that collaborate wholly or partially online.

In response to this emergent need, groupware, software used to support online group work, has become widely used in both education and enterprise. Although based upon sound pedagogical principles, the use of groupware does not always meet expectations or compare favourably to face-to-face collaboration. The literature has identified the issue of awareness, defined by Dourish and Bellotti (1992, p. 107) as “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity”, as a core factor in the effectiveness of groupware. Numerous awareness mechanisms have been developed and implemented into groupware applications, aiming to replace the information that is implicit in face-to-face collaboration, but largely absent in online environments.

This study defined and modelled a new form of awareness named ‘participation awareness’, which aggregates and processes activity in a groupware environment in order to present a persistent display of group member participation. A field study was conducted, wherein university students utilised a groupware application named GroupShare to support group work required in their studies. GroupShare contained an implementation of a participation awareness mechanism, and participating students completed pre and post-usage questionnaires primarily concerning group work and the participation awareness mechanism. Further survey and observational techniques were also utilised to gather data. Two iterations of the field study were conducted, each running for one semester.

Analysis of the data found that the participation awareness mechanism was well received, eliciting largely positive responses from a range of participant demographics, group dynamics and group work scenarios. Participant feedback was utilised to define and refine the constituents of participation awareness and create a generic model for its implementation as an awareness mechanism. The model outlines the steps and considerations required to capture and process activity within a groupware environment, and establishes three complimentary methods of presenting participation awareness. The author feels that the research was successful in creating and justifying a model of participation awareness which can be implemented in groupware environments and utilised in further research.

LCSH Subject Headings

Groupware (Computer software)

Group work in education -- Computer programs.

Computer networks -- Social aspects.

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