Facilitation

Topic Progress:

Read chapter 3 of Teaching in Blended Learning Environments1.

Facilitating a learning experience is at the very heart of building a community of inquiry. It is not enough to simply copy and paste lecture notes, or even to capture a lecture on video, and upload the results into a learning management system. Teachers are vital to the development of communities of inquiry.

In the previous lesson, we explored the necessity of learning design in setting the stage for learning, and in this lesson, we will focus on the activities that teachers must do during a course to ensure that the learning activities are implemented as designed. This involves promoting an environment where students are able and willing to build social presence in the course so that there is freedom to explore the cognitive challenges of the content in safety. This is where the art of integrating social and cognitive presences is most necessary.

Vaughan, Garrison, and Cleveland-Innes stress the importance of realizing that this element of the CoI is teaching presence, a verb describing the actions of the teacher that lead to the development of a CoI. Ideally, teaching presence leads to the development of self-regulatory behaviours in and among learners. As such, they avoid using the term teacher presence. This also reflects the truth that it is not only teachers who contribute to the facilitation of a learning experience, but also learners or even agents external to the course all together.

In my own research on study buddies in online learning environments, many students reported that their partner in the exercise was a valuable source of information about course logistics, social support, and, importantly, alternate viewpoints on the content. Furthermore, the instructor in the course reported that he noticed a lighter workload in assessing student work because the study buddies had identified many of the structural, grammatical, and editing problems with student assignments.

Asynchronous Social Interaction

In order for social presence to develop in a CoI, there must be opportunity for interaction, engagement and relationship development, but it is one thing to generate social interaction and engagement in a cohort-based model where all students are working through the course together and quite another to do the same in an environment where students are working at different paces and at different points in the course.

In fact, it is almost impossible to develop a CoI in a typical text-based asynchronous course. Or, at least it has been almost impossible.

We believe that modern advances in a few key technologies have opened the doors to the possibility that a different sort of CoI can be developed over time. In times past (and in many current situations), online distance education was dominated by discussion forums inside the ‘safe’ confines of a learning management system. Conversations were difficult because a student who has moved on from a topic will not be very motivated to respond to the questions of someone just beginning that topic, or they may have finished the course entirely and are inaccessible.

Contrast that with a course like this, which is open on the web and built in a tool that allows and encourages ongoing work and reflection. Now, instead of whispering to ghosts, learners can actually interact with previous students. Even better than that, though, they can interact with anyone on the web!

Great things happen when education is open and a great example is the student who posted to a course blog after he had finished the course because it seemed to him to be the best place to share his thoughts.

The student was re-reading a novel from the course and wanted to share some new insight. Shortly after doing so, he received a comment from the author of the novel! How likely is that to happen inside an LMS?

Serendipitous learning moments like this one can’t happen in an LMS and they are evidence that a CoI can be generated somewhat spontaneously in an asynchronous learning environment, if only we are willing to carefully design and expose the learning activities to the open web.

As Jim Groom wrote in 2013,

This shouldn’t be radical, this should be the norm.

I would argue that the best way to promote a rich Community of Inquiry in an asynchronous learning environment is to design the environment to engage with the open web. There may well be a few high enrolment courses that have enough people continually registering that a community can be realized, but for a truly transformative and ongoing community, ‘open’ is necessary.

Footnotes

  1. Vaughan, N., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca: AU Press. Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120229