Using the Community of Inquiry in online learning environments

I’m in the process of putting together a workshop for the  facilitators of one of our modules that we’re restructuring in order to use a blended learning approach. Here are the notes that I’ve been putting together on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) for the workshop. Bear in mind that these notes are my attempt to get a better understanding of the CoI, and so lack academic rigor (i.e. there are no references). Finally, I apologise in advance for any errors or misinterpretation of the model, especially where I’ve given my own examples for our participants. Feedback, as always, is welcome.

The Community of Inquiry is a framework developed by Garrison and Archer (2001) as a way of describing favourable conditions to stimulate learning in online environments. Since a lot of the Applied Physiotherapy module will be conducted online, the CoI is a useful framework to guide our understanding of interactions in the social network we’ll be using. The CoI suggests that in order for meaningful learning to take place in online spaces, there needs to be evidence of 3 types of “presence”:

  • Social presence
  • Cognitive presence
  • Teaching presence

Social presence is about encouraging purposeful communication in a trusted setting, and developing interpersonal relationships by projecting personality. There are 3 categories of social presence;

  • Affective response: humour, emotional expression (e.g. emoticons, “lol”)
  • Open communication: recognition, interaction, reflection
  • Group cohesion: use names, greet students, use inclusive pronouns (e.g. “Hi Sue. This is a good question that we can all learn from”)
Social presence is an essential component in online learning, in that students who perceive that it is lacking (i.e. they don’t feel welcome and safe) demonstrate low levels of cognitive presence. Some of the ways in which social presence can be enhanced is by communicating in ways that are perceived by students to be “warm” (think; a caring attitude). Participate regularly, respond quickly, use chat when possible. In other words, create a sense of “being there”.

Cognitive presence refers to an ability to construct meaning through sustained communication. There are 4 practical components to developing a sense of cognitive presence, which are similar to Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning:

  1. Provide a triggering event or problem that is indicated by a sense of puzzlement. The idea is to create a conflict between a students perceived understanding of reality (“This is how I believe the world to be”) and a realisation that the evidence doesn’t support their perception (“The world is not how I believed it to be”).
  2. Opportunities for exploration of the problem. This is achieved by creating an opportunity for students to understand the nature of the problem (“How or why isn’t the world the same as my mental construct of it?”), find relevant information (“What evidence can I find that will help me to understand this problem better?”), propose explanations (“If this is true, then it means that…”), and exchange information (“Hey guys, here’s some information that will help us understand this better”). You can see from these examples that this is similar to the process we want to stimulate in our cases.
  3. Students must try to integrate the new information through a focused construction of new meaning based on the new evidence. They do this by connecting new ideas and concepts to old knowledge that they already have. An understanding of the Zone of Proximal Development would be useful here.
  4. There must be a final resolution of the problem i.e. it must be solved.

There are 6 practical suggestions for how cognitive presence can be facilitated in online spaces. I’ve tried to explain each of these suggestions in terms of how we might implement them because it turns out the when facilitators model the behaviour we want to see in students e.g. critical discourse with each other and constructive critique, students tend to do similar things. The idea is that if we succeed in doing things like what is outlined below, we create the favourable conditions for cognitive presence in the online space:

  1. Discourse. We should aim to be active guides by posing questions that are relevant to emerging topics of discussion. Be aware of entering a discussion and “breaking it” by being an authority figure and / or using “academic” language that students may not be familiar with. There’s little point in students’ continuing a discussion when one of us comes in and provides a definitive resolution (i.e. an “answer”) to whatever problem they’re discussing, or when we say things that they don’t understand. Remember that we want to stimulate a conversation for them, not end one they’re already having.
  2. Collaboration. Groupwork should aim to involve generating, sharing, critiquing and prioritising solutions. There are 2 key elements; availability of the facilitator and the intellectual engagement of the student with the content.
  3. Management. Students begin to take increasing control of the learning activities e.g. suggesting and developing their own projects, with feedback from the larger group guiding their implementation.
  4. Reflection. Students tend to spend more time deliberating on their reflections when they know that what they write will be read and commented on by others. This is why we will use “public” reflections online and students will be expected to read and comment on each others’ reflections. Reflection, simply, is forming relationships between your abstract view of the world (i.e. how you believe the world to be) and how the world actually is (i.e. the congruence between your belief and what actually happens in the world). Try to use language to help students make connections between the cases and personal experiences.
  5. Monitoring (self-assessment). Rubrics can be used to help students grade their own progress and understanding. They take responsibility for making judgements about their work, which is what self-directed learning is. In the professional world, it is rare that we have someone else telling us what we don’t know. It’s up to us as professionals to evaluate our skillset and make decisions about where we’re lacking and what we need to do to fill gaps in our knowledge and skills. We need to enable students to make judgements about what they know and don’t know. Peer- and self-assessment is one way of doing this.
  6. Knowledge construction. Students must make personal meaning (i.e. “sense”) of the information they gather. They must identify the problem (“The patient can’t weightbear on the ankle”), collect data related to the problem (ROM, history of the incident, functional ability, etc.), create an hypothesis (“I believe that the lateral ankle ligament has a grade 2 sprain”), test the hypothesis (send patient for stress test under X-ray), confirm hypothesis or collect more data if necessary, make a conclusion. This process is more effective in terms of “deep learning” than memorising the signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle.

Teaching presence is about directing the social and cognitive processes (see above) to develop personally meaningful and worthwhile outcomes. There are 3 categories of teaching presence:

  • Design and organisation i.e. developing and structuring the learning experience and activities
  • Facilitating discourse by maintaining student and facilitator interest, motivation and engagement
  • Direct instruction through “injecting knowledge”, dealing with issues around content and summarising discussions
There is a significant relationship between teaching presence and perceived learning / satisfaction with online courses. In the absence of synchronous, moment by moment negotiation of meaning available in the classroom, high levels of teaching presence in the online space is even more important, as it has a greater relative impact on cognitive presence when compared to students in a physical interaction.

Socialcognitive and teaching presence all interact / are dependent on each other. Studies have found that “teaching and social presence play a major role in predicting online students’ ratings of cognitive presence, and that teaching presence is strongly correlated with students’ satisfaction with the online learning experience and their sense of community. Furthermore, comfort in online discussion was the most significant factor in students’ perceptions of cognitive presence i.e. in order to develop higher order critical thinking, students need to feel comfortable with online discussion. It may be useful to ask students to reflect on their levels of comfort with online discussion. If they report low levels of comfort, further reflection on their part might identify why they feel this way and what might be done to improve their comfort levels, allowing facilitators to modify their approaches and / or the environment.

Posted to Diigo 12/10/2010

    • The zone of proximal development is the area between what an individual can achieve on their own and what they can achieve with assistance
    • A student should constantly be reaching slightly beyond their capabilities rather than working within them
    • students should lead their learning and teachers simply assist and rather than judging students on what they know in standardised tests, learning should be done through looking closely at their zone of proximal development
    • If informal learning is as important as formal learning, then varying the way students are assessed can only work in their favour
    • Relevant, meaningful activities that both engage students emotionally and connect with what they already know are what help build neural connections and long-term memory storage
    • it’s necessary for learners to attach a new piece of information to an old one
    • If a student acquires new information that’s unrelated to anything already stored in his brain, it’s tough for the new information to get into those networks because it has no scaffolding to cling to
    • a solid amount of research also links personal relevance and emotional engagement to memory storage
    • “the learner’s emotional reaction to the outcome of his efforts … shapes his future behavior,”
    • if [a student] doesn’t believe a particular activity is interesting, relevant, or within the scope of his capabilities, it’s probably not going to sink in
    • too much emotion can be as detrimental to learning as too little: distractions and stress can also block receptivity to new ideas
    • Make it student directed. Give students a choice of assignments on a particular topic, or ask them to design one of their own. “When students are involved in designing the lesson, they better understand the goal…and become more emotionally invested in and attached to the learning outcomes.”
    • Connect it to their lives and what they already know. Taking the time to brainstorm about what students already know and would like to learn about a topic helps them to create goals — and helps teachers see the best points of departure for new ideas. Making cross-curricular connections also helps solidify those neural loops
    • With no reference point and no intrigue, information is fairly likely to go in one ear and straight out the other
    • Happy learners are healthy learners, if students do not feel comfortable in a classroom setting, they will not learn. Physiologically speaking, stressed brains are not able to form the necessary neural connections
    • The amygdala, for instance, processes emotions, stores the memories of emotional reactions, and reacts so aggressively to stress that it will physically prevent information from reaching the centers of the brain necessary for absorbing new knowledge
    • Even feelings like embarrassment, boredom, or frustration — not only fear — can spur the brain to enter the proverbial “fight or flight” mode
    • The amygdala goes into overdrive and gets in the way of the parts of the brain that can store memories
    • it makes sense — on many levels — to cultivate the learning atmosphere as much as the learning itself. “Reducing stress and establishing a positive emotional climate in the classroom is arguably the most essential component of teaching,”
    • Make the classroom stress free. Lighten the mood by making jokes and spurring curiosity; create a welcoming and consistent environment; give students frequent opportunities to ask questions and engage in discussions without judgment; and determine achievable challenges for each learner
    • Encourage participation, not perfection. A classroom in which mistakes are encouraged is a positive learning environment, both neurologically and socially speaking
    • “Students will allow themselves to experience failure only if they can do so within an atmosphere of trust and respect.”
    • This kind of positive reinforcement from the get-go allows students to let their guard down (known in neuro-speak as calming their “affective filters”). Listening to students in general, and listening to their intentions in particular, can help relax anxious brains.
    • Practice active listening. “Focus on what students are trying to say
    • Intelligence is not fixed, it turns out, nor planted firmly in our brains from birth. Rather, it’s forming and developing throughout our lives
    • neuroplasticity is defined as the selective organizing of connections between neurons in our brains
    • neuroplasticity is defined as the selective organizing of connections between neurons in our brain
    • “cells that fire together, wire together”
    • “Practice makes permanent. The more times the network is stimulated, the stronger and more efficient it becomes.”
    • both morale and grade points increase when students understand the idea that intelligence is malleable
    • Practice, practice, practice. Repeating an activity, retrieving a memory, and reviewing material in a variety of ways helps build thicker, stronger, more hard-wired connections in the brain
    • Put information in context. Recognizing that learning is, essentially, the formation of new or stronger neural connections, it makes sense to prioritize activities that help students tap into already-existing pathways
    • “Whenever new material is presented in such a way that students see relationships between concepts, they generate greater brain cell activity and achieve more successful long-term memory storage and retrieval.”
    • Let students know that this is how the brain works. “Especially for students who believe they are ‘not smart,’ the realization that they can literally change their brains through study and review is empowering.”

Posted to Diigo 06/18/2010

    • Salmon’s model moves away from the increasingly dated notion that the effective eLearning can be achieved through static learning objects (Downes 2005), and takes a social learning perspective with particular emphasis on communities of practice, providing a framework to support Wenger’s assertion that “learning cannot be designed: it can only be designed for – that is, facilitated or frustrated” (1998, p. 228).
    • Salmon’s model is also reliant upon scaffolding, extending Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (in Attwell 2006) proposition with the model’s structure implying that the moderator acts as an initial scaffold who gradually shifts responsibility for development to the learning community under their guidance, with learners developing their own scaffolding based on relationships with many within the community, and eventually, beyond the community.
    • Lead by Example
    • It is an essential part of our jobs to model what we would like to see
    • Get Personal
    • Be willing to share of yourself. Share your stories and your life
    • be willing to be open
    • Be Honest
    • you need to be willing to share your thoughts and opinions about things
    • Accept that You’re Human
    • Learn for mistakes and move on
    • Be Knowledgeable and Share
    • Share of yourself and of your passions. Make your presence in a space one that has personality and share what you have
    • Share the things you find online
    • Maintain Consistency
    • Maintaining consistency will allow your students to be comfortable in your space, understanding what happens there and able to concentrate on what they are being asked to do
    • Let it Go
    • Be prepared to see cycles between students and even within the contributions of single students
    • Don’t Give Up
    • How can we change what we are asking them to do in order for them to grow into their roles
    • “My job is to present the material in an interesting and meaningful way,” he would say. “It is the student’s job to learn that material.”

      Implicit in his statement was the idea that it was the student’s role to adjust to the various styles employed by different teachers. Whether the teacher featured a lecture format or a hands-on approach was immaterial – the assumption was that students were the ones who needed to be flexible

    • any failure on the student’s part to master the material was not the responsibility of the teacher
    • students moved along as a group, each doing the same set of assignments, each expected to master the exact same set of learning objectives by a date set forth in the syllabus
    • differentiating for a specific learner was perceived as showing favoritism
    • today’s teacher is expected to adjust to the varied preferences of students so as to maximize the learning potential of each individual in the classroom
    • Personalizing learning involves differentiating the curricula, including expectations and timelines, and utilizing various instructional approaches so as to best meet the needs of each individual
    • The challenge is not so much what those elements consist of but how to piece the elements together to form a cohesive strategy
    • But technology also plays a more important role in the personalization process. Ultimately it is the conduit for teachers to move to a learning approach that features materials developed for each individual student
    • One of the critical elements to a cohesive strategy involves the concept of a learning platform
    • First teachers must have a clear understanding of the learning needs of each student
    • teachers must monitor and assess student progress intently
    • Learning paths must then be created that match the aptitude and learning styles of every individual
    • One of the first elements is increased communication among educators themselves as well as with their individual students
    • That means increased use of email
    • Better yet, it means posting that assignment online for students and parents to access directly
    • No one educator could possibly create unique learning materials for every single student
    • An expectation that all teachers are ready for such steps is destined for failure
    • Whereas in Africa limited infrastructure is producing an information bottleneck, access in the UK is restricted by ‘denial of service’ restrictions placed upon a competent and fast modern system
    • how do we go about managing the risks more effectively to allow NHS staff to access online learning resources and tools which many of us take for granted
    • what processes people perceived as important for knowledge maturing within their organisation and how ell they though these processes were important. The two processes perceived as most important were ‘reflection’ and ‘building relationships’ between people. These were also the two processes seen as amongst the least supported
    • The issue of ‘reflection’ is more complex. e-Portfolio researchers have always emphasised the centrality of reflection to learning, yet it is hard to see concrete examples of how this can be supported
    • the amount of redundant, inconsequential, and outright poor research has swelled in recent decades
    • 40.6 percent of the articles published in the top science and social-science journals (the figures do not include the humanities) were cited in the period 2002 to 2006
    • As a result, instead of contributing to knowledge in various disciplines, the increasing number of low-cited publications only adds to the bulk of words and numbers to be reviewed
    • The avalanche of ignored research has a profoundly damaging effect on the enterprise as a whole. Not only does the uncited work itself require years of field and library or laboratory research. It also requires colleagues to read it and provide feedback, as well as reviewers to evaluate it formally for publication. Then, once it is published, it joins the multitudes of other, related publications that researchers must read and evaluate for relevance to their own work. Reviewer time and energy requirements multiply by the year
    • The pace of publication accelerates, encouraging projects that don’t require extensive, time-consuming inquiry and evidence gathering
    • Questionable work finds its way more easily through the review process and enters into the domain of knowledge
    • Aspiring researchers are turned into publish-or-perish entrepreneurs, often becoming more or less cynical about the higher ideals of the pursuit of knowledge
    • The surest guarantee of integrity, peer review, falls under a debilitating crush of findings, for peer review can handle only so much material without breaking down. More isn’t better. At some point, quality gives way to quantity
    • Several fixes come to mind:
    • First, limit the number of papers to the best three, four, or five that a job or promotion candidate can submit. That would encourage more comprehensive and focused publishing
    • Second, make more use of citation and journal “impact factors
    • Third, change the length of papers published in print: Limit manuscripts to five to six journal-length pages
    • and put a longer version up on a journal’s Web site
    • what we surely need is a change in the academic culture that has given rise to the oversupply of journals
    • Finally, researchers themselves would devote more attention to fewer and better papers actually published, and more journals might be more discriminating
    • the present ‘industrial’ schooling system is fast becoming dysfunctional, neither providing the skills and competences required in our economies nor corresponding to the ways in which we are using the procedural and social aspects of technology for learning and developing and sharing knowledge
    • Personal Learning Environments can support and mediate individual and group based learning in multiple contexts and promote learner autonomy and control
    • The role of teachers in such an environment would be to support, model and scaffold learning
    • Such approaches to learning recognise the role of informal learning and the role of context
    • Schools can only form one part of such collaborative and networked knowledge constellation
    • institutions must rethink and recast their role as part of community and distributed networks supporting learning and collaborative knowledge development
    • the major impact of the uses of new technologies and social networking for learning is to move learning out of the institutions and into wider society
    • This is a two way process, not only schools reaching outwards, but also opening up to the community, distributed or otherwise, to join in collaborative learning processes
    • At the same time new interfaces to computers and networks are likely to render the keyboard obsolescent, allowing the integration of computers and learning in everyday life and activity

Posted to Diigo 05/22/2010

    • course management software leads universities to “think they are in the information industry”. In contrast to”the authentic learning environments prompted by advances in cognitive and constructivist learning theories”:

      “the industrial, course management model has its center of gravity in teachers generating content, teachers gathering resources, teachers grouping and sequencing information, and teachers giving the information to students.”

    • In contrast, socio-cultural theories of knowledge acquisition stress the importance of collaborative learning and ‘learning communities’
    • Based on these ideas of collaborative learning and social networks within communities of practice, the notion of Personal Learning Environments is being put forward as a new approach to the development of e-learning tools (Wilson et al, 2006) that are no longer focused on integrated learning platforms such as VLEs or course management systems
    • PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity
    • a PLE should be based on a set of tools to allow personal access to resources from multiple sources, and to support knowledge creation and communication
    • a list of possible functions for a PLE have been suggested, including: access/search for information and knowledge; aggregate and scaffold by combining information and knowledge; manipulate, rearrange and repurpose knowledge artefacts; analyse information to develop knowledge; reflect, question, challenge, seek clarification, form and defend opinions; present ideas, learning and knowledge in different ways and for different purposes; represent the underpinning knowledge structures of different artefacts and support the dynamic re-rendering of such structures; share by supporting individuals in their learning and knowledge; networking by creating a collaborative learning environment
    • there is no tool that is adequate to all tasks
    • Jyri Engestrom (2005) says “the term ’social networking’ makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people
    • Vygotsky’s research focused on school based learning. He developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the gap between “actual developmental level” which children can accomplish independently and the “potential developmental level” which children can accomplish when they are interacting with others who are more capable peers or adults
    • Vykotsky called teachers – or peers – who supported learning in the ZDP as the More Knowledgeable Other. “The MKO is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the leaner particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process
    • But the MKO can also be viewed as a learning object or social software which embodies and mediates learning at higher levels of knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner presently possesses
    • The role of a Personal Learning Environment may be not only that of a tool to provide access to ‘More Knowledgeable Others’ but as part of a system to allow learners to link learning to performance in practice, though work processes
    • “In Vygotskian perspective, the ideal role of the teacher is that of providing scaffolding (collaborative dialogue) to assist students on tasks within their zones of proximal development”(Hamilton and Ghatala, 1994)
    • ”During scaffolding the first step is to build interest and engage the learner. Once the learner is actively participating, the given task should be simplified by breaking it into smaller sub-tasks. During this task, the teacher needs to keep the learner focused, while concentrating on the most important ideas of the assignment. One of the most integral steps in scaffolding consists of keeping the learner from becoming frustrated. The final task associated with scaffolding involves the teacher modelling possible ways of completing tasks, which the learner can then imitate and eventually internalise” (Dahms et al., 2007).
    • Social media and particularly video present rich opportunities for the modelling of ways of completing a task, especially given the ability of using social networking software to support communities of practice
    • PLE tools need to be able to support the visualisation or representation of models and to promote reflection on their relevance and meaning in context.
    • Within this perspective a Personal Learning Environment could be seen as allowing the representation of knowledge, skills and prior learning and a set of tools for interaction with peers to accomplish further tasks. The PLE would be dynamic in that it would allow reflection on those task and further assist in the representation of prior knowledge, skills and experiences.