E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice by Garrison and I also reviewed a paper by Garrison entitled Online Community of Inquiry Review: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence Issues also written by Garrison. I found the text to be quite interesting but also quite robust. Thus, I found I needed to reference a second source to assist me in answering the questions for this weeks blog post. This weeks questions were what are the issues with applying COI and to compare and contrast the three presences.
As far as application is concerned there are several obstacles in creating a Community of Inquiry in eLearning. A large part discussed within the text, was the collaborative-constructionist approach, or to put it in the perspective of COI, a social and cognitive approach which is supported and motivated by teaching/teacher presence. That is what is essential for a Community of Inquiry to develop and thrive. Without those areas all supported the COI will not develop or thrive. Which in itself presents a challenge. Essentially three different presences have to be successfully carried out to build a thriving community.
Looking at this one at a time, we can look at Social presence. It is mentioned that there are three types of communication: Affective Communication, Open Communication, and Group Cohesion. Affective and Open communication are important to establish socio-emotional relationships and the build trust which is important in beginning to form a community. Without these steps it becomes difficult to make the shift to the cognitive and social presence which is essential for inquiry. However, there are a couple of barriers with just these two forms of communication in an online environment. In the book threads and chat rooms are referenced as encouraging students to communicate with one another. Thus, during the development of the course this needs to be effectively worked into the course structure and an efficient platform needs to be utilized. Students must also feel comfortable with navigating those platforms as well. Finding the right platform and making sure students are comfortable to interact with eachother within it is crucial to start these two forms of communication. Blended learning, as we are during this semester, presents many advantages that assist with accelerating the development of social presence and assisting with the shift to inquiry. However, that is also something to be weighted. Elearning is often sought out by adult learners who are attracted to the format of distance learning because their schedules or personal situations may create barriers to traditional learning. Thus, blended learning may actually discourage some students from participating or may cause barriers or challenges to those individuals. Finding a format and structure that supports, encourages and makes students feel supported in these first two steps is critical but difficult.
Another area cited by Garrison, is an area that I have mentioned many times previously outside of this post. That is the idea of a face-to-face presence vs a text only platform. Can people adapt to those formats and get the same information from them? His points were somewhat conflicting in my opinion in that the text mentioned that through changes in grammar, emoticons, and humor – intonation and “body language” could be more easily translated. However, there was also mention that humor should be put on hold or carefully planned in online format. There was also the mention of a place for informal dialogue within class conversation online or discussion threads. However, this can cause confusion in my opinion. For instance, a source for my eLearning courses at VCU for communication are blog posts. Blog posts are supposed to be formal. To insert informal conversation within those posts would seem to cause confusion as to what is and is not appropriate. There is also the issue that those posts are also graded which would discourage much of the informal dialogue. I also find the platform does not provide the fluidity for discourse. Perhaps, a separate platform outside of graded assignments for fluent dialogue would be assistive or a blended learning approach. Also, clear guidelines and structure must be used to assist students in adjusting to the new form of communication online and adjusting to what is or is not appropriate within the eLearning platform.
Going into group cohesion, it relies on a common goal. Students must have established affective and open communication and have a common goal. Without a common goal or a reason to collaborate inquiry may be lost. There also needs to be a platform that students feel comfortable navigating efficiently that embraces fluent dialogue in distance learning. I really like Googledocs for this and also video chat. I have found those very helpful in teamwork efforts in other classes. Blended learning can also assist with this. It should also be noted that open and affective communication has been noted to decrease while group cohesion increased as noted by Garrison in his paper Online Community Inquiry Review. Which ventures into the idea that if there is too much affective and open communication cohesion decreases. However, if there is none it never develops. What a juggling act!
While I was reading about COI and the discussion around inquiry and discourse I immediately thought of Socrates. The Socratic method, of which I am more familiar, seems very similar in my opinion. It has been around for a very long period and is actively used in many professions, especially law. So, this idea of asking questions, finding a common goal, supporting discourse, and being supported by a facilitator is supported and seems to work well. However, the difference I suppose in a large part is the environment. We cannot gather scholars around instead we have to figure out how to apply this through a new medium and with individuals who we may actually never meet in person! How exciting is that?!
“There is no greater evil one can suffer than to hate reasonable discourse.” – Socrates
As far as Cognitive presence goes there are four stages that Garrison notes. Those stages are understanding the problem, exploration, integration, and resolution. It seems like the most difficult problem here is that many have trouble reaching all four. It seems that many get stuck at exploration, some get to integration, and resolution can be rare. “The issue revealed consistently in the research findings is that it appears that inquiry invariably has great difficulty moving beyond the exploration phase.” This was noted by Garrison in the COI review linked above. To support students in reaching the final two stages a the instructor seems to play a large role. Instruction design and organization are critical. It seems that meta-cognitive awareness may also assist for instance having students point out what stage their response falls in. However, with appropriate structure and assignments it will be very difficult for students to achieve the discourse needed to get to the final stages. That is also assuming that students have already achieved enough social presence to read group cohesion.
The next is teaching presence. Note that it is teaching presence because it does not solely have to come from the teacher. Students can also have some role in teaching presence. However, I believe that it stills needs a strong role from a facilitator which most likely would be the instructor. Design, facilitation, and direct instruction are critical in forming COI. In what I have noted above both design and facilitation have already been mentioned several times. Without adequate and flexible design social presence can be compromised thus impacting COI. Also, without accurate facilitation social presence can become disorganized or ineffective which will result in inquiry being affected. Cognitive presence also leans strongly on teaching presence. To reach the final stages on practical inquiry instructors need to design and facilitate opportunities for discourse. This flows into direct instruction as well. Instructors need to find a way to embrace all of the above while providing direct instruction as needed to continue to support inquiry and lead the students to becoming a community.
To me it seems very overwhelming. I honestly wonder how many people are actually doing this efficiently in a strictly online format? What modes of communication do they use? How do they strike balance between facilitation and direct instruction? It seems that COI has many facets that can become quite difficult to manage and execute effectively, especially in online formats, which in itself is a large barrier. However, I think it is a good goal. I would just like to know more about others who are currently successfully using it. I am also curious how large of a difference this makes compared to previous generations of distance learning. For instance, I am used to approaches that are more isolated in approach. I suppose the answer is social discourse is needed to assist in getting a larger scope and persepctive of the content. As well as, providing a way to filter and reflect amongst other perspectives. I am just curious in the long run if there is a benefit in outcomes career and economic wise for students? If students are engaged in COI throught their higher education experience will their outcomes be better? Where will they excel? Are there in any areas in which they may have weaknesses compared to the other? Also, what happens if they were engaged in attempted COI but it was not efficient or effective what are the outcomes then? I think I am off on a bit of a tangent with that but I am just curious. I find it very interesting and would like to know more.
I apologize for this lengthy post. I strived to make it short but condensing the material was difficult. I hope you find some of it useful and if you have an answer or any resources to my questions please let me know!