Figure 1. Influential Community of Inquiry (COI) framework developed by Garrison R., Cleveland-Innes M., and colleagues.

Teaching has traditionally been through lectures to large classrooms of students. However, recent advances in technology, combined with new theories of learning and new theories and knowledge, have opened up a plethora of possibilities for improving teaching practise. However, effectively harnessing these opportunities requires a conceptual framework relating new teaching methods to traditional forms of instruction. It is here that the COI (Community of Inquiry) framework proposed by Garrison, R., Cleveland-Innes, M. and colleagues is so useful.

COI framework – outline

The COI framework proposes that student learning happens best in the intersection between Social Presence, Teaching Presence and Cognitive Presence. Some facets of Social Presence are emotional expression, group cohesion and open communication. Some facets of Teaching Presence are instructional design, facilitating discourse and direct instruction. Some facets of Cognitive Presence are triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution. The COI framework is designed for learning that happens within small groups of students, in a problem-based learning setting. It emphasises the role of teachers as facilitators, hands more responsibility to students to direct their learning, and places emphasis on active means of learning, i.e. through collaboration, discussion and application of learnt knowledge.

In the near future, I plan to teach a course on my research interest, Statistical Analysis of Neuroscience Data. In this article, I will ponder the application of the COI framework in designing this course:

Social presence

I will send an email to students about a week before the course, asking them about what and how much they expect to learn during the course. I think this would make them feel valued and also more open to sharing their opinion in future (open communication). The course will have a group-activity component. I will divide the students into small groups of between 6-8 students for the group activity, and keep these groups constant through the course. I expect this will provide a sense of cohesion within the group (group cohesion), and allow them to be increasingly comfortable expression their opinion within the group, as the course progresses.

Teaching presence

I will prepare lectures on the technical aspects of the course (direct instruction). I will do this in consultation with a teaching and learning specialist, and I will also discuss other aspects of the course design with this person (instructional design). I will divide allocate time during each lecture for direct instruction of technical content, discussion within small groups on the technical content and possible applications, and real-world applications of the taught content both within science and outside. I will include examples from my own research for this last portion. Students will be given coursework on forming opinions on general directions in which the research field is progressing, giving them the opportunity to reflect and think critically. Course assessment will be a combination of examinations, coursework and group activity. Individual contributions to the group activity will be recognised.

Cognitive presence

The group-activity for each group will be on tackling an open research problem on statistical analysis of neuroscience data. Each group will be given a different problem. They will be asked to survey the current literature on addressing this problem, and propose novel solutions. They will also be asked to compare their proposed solutions against performance with the state-of-the-art solution. The incentive will be to publish promising solutions in Neuroscience Methods journals. I expect that tackling these problems within a group setting will unleash the student’s creativity and also strengthen bonds within the group.

It promises to be an interesting experience design and implementing this prospective course! Next week, I will share a few more thoughts I had about the design of this course, in particular those aspects I have thought about due to what  I have learnt in ONL211.

Posted by Nitin Williams

Topic 4 – Applying the COI framework