Online Community of Inquiry – Online Community of Practice

Randy Garrison, University of Calgary, offers this draft Online Community of Inquiry Review: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence Issues (2006).

The research tool (below) developed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) is put forward as a framework that has “provided significant insights and methodological solutions for studying online learning”.

Those with experience of participating in online communities will likely feel some ‘resonance’ with some or all of the elements identified:
social presence – the ability to project one’s self and establish personal and purposeful relationships
cognitive presence – exploration, construction, resolution and confirmation of understanding through collaboration and reflection in a community of inquiry
teaching presence – different aspects of programme design, facilitation and direct instruction
Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000)

As Randy implies, part of the driver for the development of the research tool was to be able to quantify the value of online communities of inquiry (CoI). I wonder if trying to ‘weigh the online pig’ in this way they risk undermining the potential of very thing they are seeking to promote.

In trying to understand complex situations such as how learning takes place in online communities, I would argue that a strong case could be made for the truism that ‘you get what you measure’. Is the framework developed pushing us to measure the right things, or is it simply identifying that which can be more easily observed and quantified?

Arguably, Wenger’s Community of Practice (CoP) learning theory provides an approach that is congruent with the use of emerging online technologies (web 2.0) that are founded on user-generated content and social networks – “connectivism”).

For Wenger, “The basic idea is that human knowing is fundamentally a social act”. More specifically, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something (domain) they do and learn how to do (practice) it better as they interact regularly (community).”

A process of negotiation and resultant ‘meaning making’ defines the community. This ongoing interaction changes the identity of the individual and their relationship to the group as a whole and its other members.

Different communities come into contact with each other at the boundary (practice or domain of knowledge, or community) and it is here that the most potential for innovation exists as new and competing ideas interact.

The implications of integrating a CoP approach with a CoI would place less emphasis on the instructional aspects of the teaching role and instead see them focusing on the importance of modeling desired behaviour such as critically reflecting on their own experiences. Labels for individuals such as teacher and student would diminish in significance as all community members adopted different roles according to their knowledge, experience and changing identity. Individuals membership of different online and f2f communities would allow for the opportunity of cross pollination of ideas and experiences.

The description could be developed further, but in such a model, the single most important identifier of success, would be who are the community members becoming rather than what do they know about X or Y.

It would be easy to get carried away describing some idealised model for Higher Education when the reality dictates something that is very much different.

In his paper Randy summarises the characteristics of a community of inquiry (below) and, in so far as they go, they make good sense to me. However, I would suggest that the boundaries could be pushed further and that by re-visiting the categories and indicators of the research tool offered, then a more powerful model for an online community of inquiry could be developed and if this what we measure, then this is what we will increasingly get!

A community of inquiry needs to have clear expectations as to the nature of critical discourse and their postings. Participants need to be aware of the academic objectives, the phases of inquiry, and the level of discourse. These educational challenges raise the importance and role of teaching presence. The distinction between facilitation and direction must also be clear from a design perspective. Teaching presence must consider the dual role of both moderating and shaping the direction of the discourse. Both are essential for a successful community of inquiry.

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