Drs. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson, and Walter Archer reunite to address the impact and development of their conceptual model of Communities of Inquiry(CoI) as it relates to online learning (recently published in The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 13, Issues 1-2). It is great to see these scholars come together again, and to see the ongoing work of their model.
I didn’t realize until now that I was a student of the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta where all three worked while researching and developing their model. I was pursuing an undergrad degree in adult education via distance at the time. Now I understand why this degree was delivered so well back in the dawning age of online learning in 1999.
While I didn’t use the CoI model to analyze my data from my doctoral study on the needs and perceptions of graduate students, I did discover the importance of social and teaching presence. Surprising to me, the latter became more important for my participants. I was surprised as my participants were motivated, middle-aged professionals who were focused and determined to pursue an online graduate degree regardless of their work and life responsibilities and overall lack of time and sleep. They seemed to be self starters and independent. And, I was surprise as much of the literature promotes social learning as key to education, whereas some of my participants seemed less interested in this mode of learning.
However, the presence of their instructor became paramount to their successful engagement in an online course. In order of importance, participants wanted instructors to provide student support, student guidance, and feedback. For instance, they wanted encouragement from the online instructor, and to connect with them. Specifically, they wanted answers to their questions, and guidance on working online and with electronic resources. As well, they were quite concerned about the expectations of instructors and needed clarity. They also wanted daily responses and feedback from instructors, whereas having a personal connection with the instructor made feedback more meaningful and less like terse judgment.
If I were to use the CoI model as framework in my analysis, I might have examined the interconnection of social and teacher presence (I didn’t study cognitive presence). As such, I probably would have counted, reviewed (?) the extent to which participants needed either presence and the correlation between the two. That is, did those who remarked about the need for instructors to be more present online also enjoy learning with others through online discussions and group work? Or were those who needed more instructor guidance independent learners? I would have to follow the work of those who are developing the use of a CoI framework to determine the best approach. But I agree that analyzing the effects of online learning through the interconnection of the presences better explains the personal and learning experience of online students as complex beings in complex environments.