OT101 Post 2 – Cognitive Presence

OTL101 Post 2: Cognitive Presence.

What do you know now that you did not know prior to starting the course?

The reading by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, “Critical Thinking, Cognitive Presence, and Computer Conferencing in Distance Education,” emphasizes the importance of enhancing CMC – Computer mediated communication through asynchronous text based conferencing environments. Garrison, Anderson and Archer promote that teachers use the “Practical Inquiry Model” in order to model cognitive presence. What have I learned? This article solidifies the importance of enhancing critical thinking skills in asynchronous text based learning environments, which is something I already do in the classroom and online via Moodle. So, the ideas presented here really support a model I already endorse and use.

My teaching philosophy supports cognitive presence in the classroom. My interdisciplinary training in Women’s Studies, Sociology, Criminology and The Sociology of Education has enabled me to observe a variety of pedagogical strategies used by many gifted academics. Through role modelling and practice, my teaching philosophy has been greatly influenced by the critical pedagogies of Henry A. Giroux (1981-82)[i] Paulo Freire (1971, 1973)[ii], Kathleen Weiler (1988)[iii] and bell hooks. In particular I have been influenced by bell hooks’ 1994 book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge).[iv]

Drawing from the work of bell hooks I believe in the notion of “teaching as empowerment,” and therefore take teaching as an opportunity to inspire. In my courses my goal is to enhance student teaching as a transformative experience. Like bell hooks, I assume that “social and political forces shape the construction and utilization of knowledge” (hooks, 2004:1). Therefore, in order to sharpen critical thinking skills, I encourage students to challenge existing boundaries, both, personal or social as constructed. My aim is to provide students with the tools to challenge and move beyond pre-conceived ideas with the aim of “empowering and transforming learners.”

Drawing on the work of hooks my definition of transformative learning is “personal engagement with course material.” I therefore believe that the subject matter should be directly relevant to the lives of students. For this reason I attempt to acknowledge a diversity of learning styles and student experiences. Throughout my courses, I combine media, writing assignments, tests, in-class reflection assignments, group work and weekly discussion. In the early stages of my courses I encourage students to take responsibility for learning. This includes awareness of the hurtful effects of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, and ableism. I do this because I believe that one of my most important roles is providing a safe atmosphere for learning. As well, teachers should aim to inspire. This requires knowledge of student background which allows me to consider how to make course material relevant and devise strategies for fostering critical thinking skills.

The way in which I operationalize hook’s teaching philosophy in the classroom depends on the course and content level. I believe that the teaching philosophy should serve to inform practice in the classroom. Depending on the level of instruction I design course format and evaluation requirements that “strive to optimize student engagement and success.”

Like bell hooks I believe that teaching is a privileged position that requires “humility and respect.” For this reason teachers need to recognize the power inherent in their role; and they need to be self reflective of their actions. As well, I believe that teachers need to be mindful of their position as role models. Thus, “transformative learning should be reciprocal, educational, informative, and uplifting.” In doing so, like hooks, my aim is to try to get students to “see the social world through a new lens” and to “think more critically.” I think that I have accomplished this goal in my courses through making university – community connections, and thus inspiring my students to think critically about their learning while enhancing their sociological imagination[v].

What gaps or discrepancies do you notice between your ideas in Post 1 and what you have learned since then in Lesson 1?

I do not see many discrepancies between my ideas in Post 1 and what I have learned. I support an inquiry based approach in my teaching therefore I agree with Garrison, Anderson and Archer. I utilize the Socratic Method in my classes. I also incorporate the Practical Inquiry Model in my classes. I think it is incredibly important to incite and empower students to learn by engaging them in the learning process. Having obtained a doctorate in the Sociology of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and having taught for 18 years, over time (and through the process of trial and error) I have changed my teaching methods from the ‘sage on the stage’ approach to hands on experiential learning promoting critical thinking skills.

What questions would you like to explore on the topic of cognitive presence?

A question I have is how to incorporate cognitive presence in an online learning environment. While physical presence in the classroom allows a teacher to verbally engage with students in a group discussion format and potentially read body language, there is no such option online. Thus, there is room for miscommunication and misinterpretation. Therefore, how can a teacher practice the Practical Inquiry Model with little to no social context in which to understand the context in which students are accessing and understanding the course material?

Provide an example of how you have seen effective cognitive presence modeled in online learning.

I have seen the cognitive presence modeled in online learning through the Criminology course I took with the Justice Institute of B.C. (JIBC). While the teacher attempted to engage students there were problems with the course which may have been due to the lack of resources provided to the teacher. Some of the online approaches used were effective however some were not.  As a student in this course I found the online learning process extremely frustrating. In order to complete the course we had to do weekly readings and post online comments in a live chat environment commenting on the reading materials. There was a weekly requirement of 2-3 posts and a requirement to reply to posts. We also had to interview a parole officer and post our findings. What I found difficult is that I would post comments and then they would disappear from the online forum. I would then have to contact the teacher to report that I had submitted them, and if they were lost, I had to repeat the work. The technology was difficult to work with and sometimes I found that the teacher was unable to keep up with the grading. As a student, I found I had to keep on top of the course, make sure my submissions went through to be graded, and generally I had to be self motivated. There were times that online postings were misinterpreted leading to conflict between students online. The teacher had to respond to all of our postings and sometimes he was unable to keep up with the submissions. I found the process alienating because there was no face-to-face engagement however, I learned a lot from reading my fellow students’ posts. I was glad when the course finished. It was not a great experience. What would I do to improve on this experience? As a teacher, I would hold office hours by telephone whereby students could call the teacher to engage with them one on one. This would have allowed me to connect with my teacher in the JCIB course. In the JCIB course there was no video engagement between the teacher and student. Instructional teaching videos could have enhanced the course. While we had to engage with the material and respond online to questions on a weekly basis, this teaching format was not enough. In conclusion, I think there are ways to enhance an online course to motivate students to engage and improve on the JCIB course experience.

Ellen Faulkner

October 7, 2018

[i]              Giroux, Henry. 1981. Ideology, Culture and the Process of Schooling. Philadelphia: Temple University Press; Giroux, Henry. 1982. “Ideology and agency in the process of schooling.” Journal of Education. 165(1): 12-35; Giroux, Henry. 1983. Theory, Resistance, and Education. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin and Garvey; Giroux, Henry. 1985. Theory, Resistance, and Education. South Hadley, Massachusetts: Bergin and Garvey.

[ii]             Freire, Paulo. 1971. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Harper and Row; Freire, Paulo. 1973. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Seabury Press

[iii]            Weiler, Kathleen. 1988. Women Teaching For Change: Gender, Class and Power. Bergin and Garvey Massachusetts, Inc.: Massachusetts. (Critical Studies in Education Series). Introduction by Henry A. Giroux and Paulo Freire.

[iv]               hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

[v] Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York: The Free Press.