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Community of Inquiry: Transforming the Hybrid Learning Environment

The EvoLLLution | Community of Inquiry: Transforming the Hybrid Learning Environment
The community of inquiry framework allows for the creation of highly engaging, immersive online, in-person and blended learning experiences that can significantly improve retention and success for online learners.

How do we create not only the richest interaction with content for online students but ownership of the learning that takes place around that content? How do we build a learning community that sustains and enriches that process for students? How do we transform our teaching to facilitate the deepest learning possible for all?

Years ago, when I was first making the leap from a blended learning environment to fully online teaching, I found myself asking those questions.  I already was somewhat comfortable with non-lecture forms of teaching, born out of necessity when I accepted my first videoconference-delivered blended course. But without even the fuzzy televised images of students checking in from the far-flung corners of Wyoming, how would my students and I build mutually beneficial connections and engage with the content that brought us together?

In my quest for answers, I discovered the Community of Inquiry (CofI) framework of online learning and teaching, developed by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walter Archer. A 2000 article in The Internet and Higher Education, provided the overview and the spark for an extended application to my teaching practice.

The Community of Inquiry is grounded in three “essential elements” of learning and interaction:

  • Social presence—facilitation of “affective expression,” open communication and group cohesion.
  • Teaching presence—design and organization, facilitation, direct instruction.
  • Cognitive presence—engaging with content and ideas that are the focus of the course, via a triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution.

As an instructor, the appeal was clear: the CofI frame tended to the unique human/social and cognitive needs of online students, reducing the distance between learners while actively engaging them with the course content. It also articulated the instructional role in ways that made sense and fit my other distance-delivered teaching experiences.

Adding to the appeal for me was the research-informed and –tested nature of the Community of Inquiry model. The framework itself is grounded in research and has been the subject of others’ research and critiques. Also emerging from research: an assessment tool that both facilitates CofI-grounded course evaluation and a useful list of actions and conditions that represent all three presence types.

Over the years, applying the Community of Inquiry to my own teaching set my courses on a path to interactive, community-based learning for everyone. I particularly found value in using the intersections between the “presence” types—regulating learning (cognitive/teaching), supporting discourse (cognitive/social), and setting climate (social/teaching)—to enrich the overall experience and outcomes.

The next three posts series will go into instructional implications of each presence type in greater depth. In the meantime, here are a few examples—largely from my own teaching practice—to embody them.

Cognitive Presence:

  • Individual and collaborative projects that promote inquiry
  • Selection of challenging but accessible content with clear connections to current and future practice
  • Discussions, grounded in that course content, that promote critical thinking
  • Assignments (e.g., journal entries, self-assessments) that promote reflection

Social Presence:

  • Space for introductions, with personal welcome by the instructor
  • Clarity about expectations for sustaining a safe and collegial environment
  • Opportunities for formal and informal collaboration
  • Processes that encourage and recognize active participation

Teaching Presence:

  • Clear communication about goals, assignments, submission processes, etc.
  • Strong, supportive, appropriately challenging presence in discussions and elsewhere in the classroom
  • Active attention to student participation (and early intervention to identify, address potential problems)
  • Expecting, modeling critical reflection
  • Providing timely feedback on assignments

This is the first of a four-part series by Debra Beck outlining the Community of Inquiry framework from a postsecondary perspective. Please click here to receive updates when future installments are published.

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