Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Community of Inquiry in an Online Undergraduate Information Technology Course

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Community of Inquiry in an Online Undergraduate Information Technology Course

Article excerpt


Within the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000), a successful higher education experience is held to be supported by the presence and interaction of the elements of cognitive, social and teaching presences. Although the framework has been extensively used, from a constructivist perspective, to examine the quality of asynchronous educational interactions enabled by computer-mediated communication (CMC) media such as e-mail and discussion forums, less is known about its applicability to the more discursive educational exchanges facilitated by the synchronous CMC medium. This paper describes an innovative case of the instructional application of online synchronous (chat) interaction in a distance IT undergraduate course that enabled the examination of the three presences during tutorial discussions. Results from discourse analysis of chat exchanges and web survey of student learning experiences during collaborative group learning processes in virtual tutorials are presented. The paper concludes with discussion on the implications of findings for guiding the pedagogical design of online synchronous instructional environments that facilitate collaborative group learning processes in distance educational programmes.


Interaction is considered crucial to learning experiences from the sociocultural constructivist perspective (Vygotsky, 1962) which assumes that participation in discursive practices of the community supports knowledge construction. Furthermore, the learner's potential capacity for intellectual growth is held to be enhanced by the presence of scaffolding or guidance in the form of tutor/peer support through interaction. In online educational contexts, the move from constructing learning conversations in traditional classrooms to virtual settings presents benefits and challenges to educators as the range of educational interactions has been extended yet limited by technological decisions.

Moore (1989) introduced three types of interaction now widely described and accepted in the field of distance education: learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner interactions. With greater acceptance of constructivist learning approaches and improved web/CMC technologies, learner-learner interaction represents a new dimension in distance education which normally eschews group/collaborative learning approaches due to the geographically separated learning parties.

Extending on these three basic interaction types, Anderson and Garrison (1998) proposed that online transactions could occur between three macro-components of student, teacher, and content producing student-teacher, student-content, and teacher-content interaction types. In addition, transactions within each macro-component could result in a sub-set of interactions: student-student, teacher-teacher, and content-content. In order to contextualize these interactions, Garrison Anderson and Archer (2000) developed a Community of Inquiry (COI) model which was elaborated on and refined in subsequent publications (Anderson, 2004; Garrison, 2003; Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Kanuka & Garrison, 2004). The following discussion draws from these main sources in describing the model.

According to Garrison and Anderson (2003), the term 'community of inquiry' was originally used by Lipman (1991) to refer to a teacher-facilitated critical learning community where "students listen to one another with respect, build on one another's ideas, challenge one another to supply reasons for otherwise unsupported opinions, assist each other in drawing inferences from what has been said, and seek to identify one another's assumptions" (Lipman, 1991, p.15 in Garrison & Anderson, 2003, p.27). Based on this broad concept of a critical learning community comprising students and teachers and the constructivist assumption that knowledge building is a contextualized social process which occurs within such a community, the COI model is conceived as comprising three mutually interacting and reinforcing elements of cognitive, social, and teaching presences supported in online instructional environments by CMC technologies (Figure 1). …

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