Communities of inquiry: myth or reality?

by alessiob

In literature, a community of inquiry is defined as a group of people who collaboratively engage in critical thinking to construct personal meaning and confirm understanding [1]. Communities of inquiry have been standardised using a theoretical framework, which describes the process of creating a deep and meaningful collaborative learning experience through the development of three facets being social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence [2].

Social presence is defined as the ability of attendees to (i) identify themselves with the community, (ii) communicate in trusting environment and (iii) develop relationships. Cognitive Presence is defined as the extent to which attendees are able to learn through reflection and discourse happening in the community. Teaching presence is defined as  the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes by the lecturer.

During the last decades, the framework has been applied for teaching and its results have been discussed in several works [3]. I am not an expert of such methodology, but after having spent some time in reading and learning about this framework and its application on online or blended teaching and learning, I found the framework to be annoyingly generic to an extent that brought me to wonder whether it can be used in practice or not. My first concern is that this framework revolves around social presence, which I found, as an educator, to be extremely hard to build especially for some specific subjects, let us say technical subjects. Of course I am aware of the tons of researches that successfully used CoI as a pedagogical instrument, but I found these researches to conveniently address specific kinds of subject and students, only. My skepticism originates from the reflection that I never, to the best of my knowledge, found a research that focuses on the use of community of inquiry for, e.g., teaching math.

So, since I suppose my skepticism might be a sign of my bias and unconscious will to negate this methodology, in the remaining of this post, I want to challenge you and I want you to answer the following question.

Can you make a syllabus for a math course using community of inquiry under the following assumptions? The course is an on-campus course with the possibility of remote sessions. The students are first years bachelor students. The number of attendees is expected to be around hundreds.

Hit me with your solution in the comments!

[1] Garrison, D. Randy. “Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 11.1 (2007): 61-72.

[2] Splitter, Laurance J., and Ann M. Sharp. Teaching for better thinking: the classroom community of inquiry. Australian Council for Educational Research, Ltd., 19 Prospect Hill Rd., Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, 3124 Australia., 1995.

[3] Garrison, D. Randy, Terry Anderson, and Walter Archer. “The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective.” The internet and higher education 13.1-2 (2010): 5-9.

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Ioanna 11 May 2020 - 16:28

I am in the same boat, somewhat, having the same skepticism on applying the CoI framework. In my mind, Mathematics is the anti-paradigm. But you can include emotional presence in the sense that you make everyone welcome in the course, and create an environment where it is ok to ask questions. That applies to online learning perhaps even more than on campus, as a teacher needs to be more active and attentive in that respect.
I have not really seen much on CoI applied to technical fields. But my thought would be to ask students why they think Mathematics is useful. It is on the edge of the topic, but that has been my conclusion/reflection from the discussions of the last two weeks.

alessiob 25 May 2020 - 12:04

Yeah, but I vividly remember that when I was student the most heard comment about math was “screw it, you don’t need equations to work”.
More, students talking about algorithm complexity “we don’t need Dijkstra”.
My point is that if you ask students on the importance of math or algorithm or other subjects, you could get nothing, but a bunch of similar comments.
I think that is important to take CoI, emotions and so on into account, but that sometimes, for some subjects, they won’t help much.

Esther 13 May 2020 - 13:25

Tricky question! Well, I agree that the framework is generic but I think that is precisely the point: to serve as a point of departure or backbone to design learning experiences in different contexts. In my own understanding, of this framework, and perhaps it does not spell out this explicitly, is that considers learning happening through a process of inquiry in a community. If you design a course where the learning is student-centred (e.g. instead of students passively listening to the lecturer they actually actively participate) then you need to consider these elements of social, teaching, cognitive presence and further emotional presence. One further challenge I think we face as educators coming from more traditional learning experiences is that of having to give the control of what takes place in the learning sessions to the students -in my experiences most people do not like that! even if they are not of a controlling nature 🙂
When planning a course I tend to ask myself; what can the students do to learn this concept? (or what can I get the students to do?) instead of what can I do to teach them this concept? …in the end I think it is not so much about what I do but what they do that matters in learning.

alessiob 25 May 2020 - 12:00

I definitely agree with your point of educators not giving up control.
And I like your conclusion “in the end I think it is not so much about what I do but what they do that matters in learning”, too.
I am really looking forward to my next course to check how this will turn practically!

Mehrdad Saadatmand 13 July 2020 - 16:24

This has indeed been my question and curiosity in the sense that how the content and type of a course as well as the maturity of the audience and students of that course can impact the method of teaching and building a community for collaborative learning. The size of the class as you mentioned can also affect this. So these are factors that, in my opinion, need to be thoroughly investigated. It can easily happen that we end up with the hammer-nail dilemma in collaborative learning as well, that we see it as a single solution (hammer) that we want to apply to every course regardless of their differences and unique characteristics (seeing everything else as nails).


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