29 Building a Community of Inquiry

A community of inquiry (COI) is a theoretical framework for online learning research and instructional design that was originally described by D. R. Garrison in the early 1990s. Based on John Dewey’s community of inquiry and Mathew Lipman’s concept of critical thinking (1991), COI has been successfully applied and validated in online and blended K–12, undergraduate, graduate, and professional educational settings.

The COI model consists of three separate but integrated elements: social, teaching, and cognitive presence:

  • Social presence is a cooperative effort between the instructors and the students, rather than solely a function of time. It evolves in a safe environment for expression; through group cohesion or identity; and through affective expressions (such as the use of emoticons or humor).
  • Teaching presence refers to a combination of creative, administrative, and behavioral processes that occur as part of course design and implementation. It is constructed through well-structured learning activities; proactive and explicit instructions and feedback; and the inclusion of discussion summaries, corrections of misconceptions, and confirmations of learner understanding.
  • Cognitive presence is the extent to which learners construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse.

Importance of teaching and social presence

  • High levels of instructor teaching and social presence correlate with high

    levels of student social presence (Rovai, 2002; Shea et al., 2010).

  • Social presence tends to precede cognitive presence (Rovai, 2002; Shea et al., 2010).
  • A majority (70%) of variance in cognitive presence relates to positive perceptions of teaching presence and the ability to establish social presence (Shea & Bidjerano, 2009).
  • Effective teaching presence may be the most important factor in establishing high levels of cognitive presence (de Leng et al., 2009; Shea & Bidjerano, 2009).
COI Framework Diagram, by Matbury, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Designing for cognitive presence

  • Provide clear definition of student roles and responsibilities (Dennen, 2005; Garrison et al., 2010; Gilbert & Dabbagh, 2005).
  • Include activities that require students to debate opposing viewpoints (Dennen, 2005; Garrison et al., 2010; Gilbert & Dabbagh, 2005).
  • Design active and collaborative activities (Zydney, deNoyelles, & Kyeong-Ju, 2012).
  • Engage students in structured discussions and reflective activities in favor of general forums and unstructured reflections (Kanuka et al., 2007).
  • Encourage active reflection and self-assessment (Duncan & Barnett, 2009; Pawan et al., 2003).

Select the link to access the COI Reference List.


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