Many of us are comfortable building rapport and community among our students in the face-to-face (F2F) classroom. We’ve honed these practices over time and through exploration of a variety of approaches. It is likely that you’ve worked intuitively to build a Community of Inquiry (CoI) in your courses, even if you aren’t familiar with that term. The CoI framework (Garrison, 2017) outlined below is useful in any setting, but is particularly designed to guide course design in online and blended environments. Although your community may look differently in a FurmanFlex course, designing the course around the CoI framework can ensure that you’ve constructed the appropriate course infrastructure to cultivate rich community in such an environment.
The CoI framework is built upon careful attention to three dimensions (Purdue, 2020):
Research has shown that there is a relationship between the three presences and students’ perceived learning, satisfaction with the course, satisfaction with the instructor, actual learning, and sense of belonging (Akyol & Garrison, 2008). The CoI framework suggests that deep and meaningful learning in hybrid flexible environments occurs at the intersection of social, teaching, and cognitive presence (Purdue, 2020). For a brief overview of the CoI model see here, or check out this online resource on the framework.
Outlined below are several ideas for creating each of the three primary presences of the CoI model. In all cases, we advocate a “purpose first, tool second” approach to building your CoI. This approach first asks you to identify the desired instructional and learning outcomes you have for your course (e.g. a good discussion, student collaboration, reflection, applying information) before selecting the instructional strategy or tool most appropriate for meeting your goal.
Social presence supports learning objectives and makes group interactions enjoyable and rewarding. Indicators of social presence include emotional expression, open communication and group cohesion (McArthur, 2018 A).
Facilitating Social Presence in Your FurmanFlex Course
Colleagues at Brigham Young University have these suggested strategies for developing social presence in blended courses. Most of the activities described below take place via virtual platforms, but students in both F2F and online modalities can participate simultaneously in these activities (Social Presence, 2020).
At the Beginning of the Course:
Throughout the Course
The FDC recently hosted a Coffee and Conversations Chat on building community online to crowd-source a number of ideas about how to facilitate the development of community in hybrid learning spaces. You can find the presentation slides and notes for that conversation here.
Teaching presence focuses on the importance of course design, facilitation and the development of learning outcomes and activities that promote discussion and discourse between instructor-teacher, student-student and student-content (McArthur, 2018 A).
Facilitating Teaching Presence in Your FurmanFlex Course
Of course, providing robust feedback also takes time. In some cases, the time demands can increase when responding to students in online platforms. Ideas for supporting useful, timely, and personalized feedback in a time-efficient manner include:
The FDC recently hosted a Coffee and Conversations Chat on student feedback to crowd-source a number of ideas for how to provide meaningful, time-efficient feedback for students in hybrid and online spaces. You can find the presentation slides and notes for that conversation here.
Cognitive presence is based on the iterative relationship between personal understanding and shared dialogue. The quality of cognitive presence reflects the quality and quantity of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving, and construction of meaning occurring in student to student and student to faculty interactions.
Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Your FurmanFlex Course
Triggering event — the problem, challenge, or task. Students are asked to encounter information that presents an idea, problem, or context.
Exploration — the process of both individual reflection and discourse with others leading to divergent ideas, exchange of information, brainstorming, and requests for feedback.
Integration — the process by which members of the community reflect individually and as a group to reach convergence or process areas of divergence by connecting ideas, identifying relationships and patterns, and proposing solutions.
Resolution — the individual or group applies and tests ideas in an applied real world scenario. Learners defend their ideas and the thinking that supports them (Ecoaching, 2020).
Virtual Platforms to Facilitate Inquiry
One of the more common methods of facilitating inquiry to build cognitive presence in hybrid flexible courses is by designing virtual platforms to encourage exploration, interaction, and discussion. Platforms like discussion boards might be used for students to analyze or critique information, reflect on concepts or debate theories, or share opinions or express ideas. Moodle offers several different types of discussion boards:
As you develop platforms for online interaction, consider the following:
Evaluating Attendance and Participation Online
Because FurmanFlex courses are likely to involve students who join through an exclusively virtual pathway and may involve course activities that all students complete online, it is worthwhile to consider how attendance and participation might be assessed for virtual activities. In general, when instructing an online course, faculty tend to utilize some combination of the following dimensions of “attendance”:
Of course, attendance is not the same as participation, which is often where a rubric comes in handy to provide clear information to the students about how their level of engagement will be assessed. Consider how you might distinguish between these two aspects in an online space. For example, if a portion of your online engagement involves forum discussion posts, you’d want to develop a pretty clear policy of sorts for how participation is assessed in forums. For example, “in order to be receive full credit for each forum post, you not only need to log in to view the post, but contribute in a way that aligns with our forum rubric posted in Moodle.” In that way, you have to do more than just spectate and log in (attend) to “participate”. It is up to you how often you assess that participation (e.g. for every forum, once a week, twice a semester).
The Furman attendance policies (can’t miss more than 15%, 25%) still apply for online and flexible courses. If you plan to include online activities in your attendance or participation assessment, it might be worth creating some mile-markers for your students that are fairly explicit. If online forums participation is required, for example, you’d want to make it clear that in order not to miss more than 15%, you can’t miss more than say 3 postings out of 20, etc. to maintain attendance standards.