During my first years at the university I used to perceive teachers as unsocial and always busy working on their important research work. Making questions during lectures or even during the hour they specifically created to answer students´ questions, would not cross my mind. I remember feeling that my questions were never smart or relevant enough to be asked. My first two years were therefore a struggle in terms of building my cognitive knowledge and my grades were a mirror of my emotions reflecting the state of merely coping with the academic environment.

Fortunately for me, by the end of my second year, things started to change. The turning point was when I started studying with a group of about eight to ten people. We would give each other the required support to make us feel socially engaged and comfortable with academic interactions. Even approaching teachers would not be as intimidating as it used to be, and I started to realize that academic teachers were actually happy to answer our questions and appreciated our interest. My grades improved considerably.

Based on my experience it is clear to me the importance of social engagement. It is not just relevant to develop a comfortable and safe environment but also to allow good and healthy academic interactions which are the basis for deep learning. However, when moving from face-to-face teaching to online, social engagement with the students can be particularly challenging.

D. Randy Garrison and his team initiated some research to overcome this challenge by developing the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI) [1] which was based on the concepts introduced by early philosophers C. S. Pierce and J. Dewey. This framework emerged in the specific context of computer conferencing in higher education and the goal of the work “was to provide a conceptual framework that would provide order, heuristic understanding and a methodology for studying the potential and effectiveness of computer conferencing” [1]. The CoI is based on three stable elements which were later shifted to a broader perspective of online learning. Those are: (i) Cognitive presence, (ii) Social presence and (iii) Teaching presence. This framework emphasizes the importance of the social interactions in the process of knowledge acquisition as well as the process of inquiry, i.e. teaching, demonstrating and reflecting on how students engage with teachers, other students and content while learning [2].

Figure 1:  Teachers engaging students in online learning [3].

As a researcher given my first steps in online teaching, I don´t want to be perceived by my students as I used to perceive my teachers during my first academic years. I want to use the tools and models available now such as “Col” and the “five stage model” [4] and learn how to engage and motivate the students to the course in a friendly, open and trustworthy atmosphere. I want to support and ensure a healthy social engagement of the students, because only with this support can students build strong relationships with other students, teachers and knowledge. And to do that, one of the most important things to do is to set the example.

As Marti Cleveland-Innes stressed [5], it is very important, as a teacher, to “set yourself as human” in the sense that teachers need to be able to show their emotions to set the tone and give space and confidence for the students to do the same.


[1] Garrison, D. R.; Anderson, T.; Archer, W. 2010 The first decade of community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 13, p 5-9

[2] Bektashi, L. 2018 Community of Inquiry framework in online learning: use of technology. Pressbooks, Chapter 10. Available at: on 01/12/2019

[4] Salmon, G. The five stage model. Available at: on 01/12/2019

[5] Cleveland-Innes, M. 2019 ONL192 Topic 4 Webinar 26 November. Available at: 30/11/2019

Online learning – What is the importance of social engagement?