Cognitive presence engages students in productive discourse

According to Akyol and Garrison (2011), “Cognitive presence provides a description of the progressive phases of practical inquiry leading to resolution of a problem or dilemma.”  As you can see from figure one below, cognitive presence is thought to have four phases of which students interact with the concepts to build knowledge and confirm meaning (Akyol & Garrison, 2011).  The four phases are triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution.  Indicators of triggering event are realization of a problem and sense of puzzlement.  Exploration indicators are divergence, information exchange, suggestions, brainstorming ideas, and conclusions. Indicators of integration are building on ideas of others, synthesis, and creating solutions.  Resolution includes applying new ideas, testing solutions, and defending solutions.

cognitive presence

In my previous posts for this summer, I have shown examples listed by each indicator.  I would like to show the indicators differently in this post about cognitive presence.  As I was looking through the discussions, I noticed that the cognitive presence usually progressed through the stages in one thread, as the discourse between students developed and refined student understanding.  So here I will show three different examples where cognitive presence indicators can be seen in particular ideas that were explored by ETAP640 students.

Example #1 – Discussing motivation in an online environment

Triggering Event

  • Realization of a problem

The instructor is asking students to discuss concerns about teaching online.
Discussion Hint: What are some issues about the online teaching and learning environment that are of concern to you at this stage?

  • Sense of puzzlement

Sam is exploring this issue and asks a question that gets to the heart of student motivation.
“When it comes to online teaching and learning, it would be a concern to find ways to have my students be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. Can we even “make” students be motivated?“


  • Divergence

Emily realizes that what she thought about motivating students may not be correct.
“I think my view is different in a face to face environment because I feel like I can establish relationships with my students and help them want to want to do the work.
This article suggests that this is not the case at all and that we can do activities to encourage motivation.”

  • Information exchange

Emily adds the MUSIC model for motivation into the discussion.
“I did some research on motivating students and online learning. I found an article that discusses what motivates students. It discusses the MUSIC (“eMpowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring”) model of student motivation.  I think this relates to both online and face-to-face instruction.”

  • Suggestions

Emily offers a suggestion for motivating students online.
“In traditional classrooms we do things that allow students to feel motivated, for example give them a sense of choice and provide feedback to them in timely manners. When we see students we try to do everything in our power to make the topic interesting and provide our personal touch. We need to do the same in the online courses.”

  • Brainstorming ideas

Here Emily is throwing out ideas that she sees as being important for student motivation.
“We hear all the time that students need to feel like they are choosing activities, which are relevant to their life. They need to know they can be successful, they’re interested and they need to feel that you, as the instructor, care about them.”

  • Conclusions

Emily reached the conclusion that teachers cannot motivate students, but rather do things to help students get motivated.
“When you posed the question “can we “make” our students be motivated?” I began thinking about it. Although I don’t believe we can make students be motivated, I believe that we can do things to help their motivation.”


  • Connecting or building on ideas of others

Sam is relating her experience to the idea of teachers needing to cultivate motivation in their students.
“I can relate to seeing high school students lack of motivation since I work with them on a daily basis. I remember one of my college professors telling me that students don’t lack motivation, you as the teacher need to find what they are motivated to learn. So I completely agree with your statement on finding things to help their motivation.”

  • Creating solutions

Sam discusses different ways that she sees as helping motivation in her classroom.
“I start off asking my students what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. I also ask my students if they want me to expand on certain topics or pick up the pace. I honestly think that when you give your students options, they engage more. According to a student motivation study, students are driven by four goals that go by the acronym SCORE. Success of the subject, curiosity and their need for understanding, originality and their need for self-expression, and relationships with others in the classroom. Under those circumstances students gain energy that is essential to a productive life. I think all those are absolutely essential in the classroom and need to be utilized in your lesson plan process so your students are better motivated! It makes sense!”


  • Apply New Ideas

Sam has included discussions and research assignments that direct students to a topic, but allow students to discuss specific aspects that are of interest to them.

Example #2 – How to establish community in an online course 

Triggering Event

  • Realization of a problem

The instructor is asking students to think about reconcpetualizing their teaching for an online course.
Discussion Hint: What aspects of your course do you feel will be challenging to reconceptualize for the online teaching and learning environment?

  • Sense of puzzlement

Emily is asking questions about building online community

“One thing that really jumps out at me with making an online course is you really have to establish a online community for students to interact in. We’ve seen that in our videos and I know that from being an online learner. So the question is What exact activities are we going to create to make sure that we establish an positive online community?”

“There are probably many other simple things we can do to build a classroom community. What are some things you are going to try to build a classroom community? Can you do too much so it’s overwhelming for the students or will there be a positive correlation between the number of “activities” we do and the community of the classroom?”


  • Information exchange

Emily shares tips for transitioning from face to face to online

“I found an article 9 Tips for successfully moving your face-to-face course online. A lot of what we learned in the readings were repeated, but there were some specifics that really jumped out at me. One things that I liked is she talks about how when you are in a face to face classroom you may give a couple minute instructions are what students are supposed to do next. That translated in an online classroom would come in the form of an email or an announcement of sorts. She talks about how we want to make sure those announcements are short so they are actually read and followed. I think this goes back to the whole idea of being very explicit with students, but it is also important to make it “short and sweet””

  • Suggestions

Catherine is bringing in the suggestion of gaining insight on student connectedness.

“While developing online courses, online facilitators should keep in mind the importance of feeling connected to a community. “Gaining insight into how to support the development of learners’ sense of connectedness and learning will allow us to make intelligent decisions about the online course design, pedagogy and faculty development” which will enhance online learning environments.”

  • Brainstorming ideas

Catherine is mentioning different ways student must feel safe in an online course, which supports building community.

“In order for students to be successful, they need to feel safe and valued. Students need to be comfortable enough to ask questions, to make mistakes, to go through the learning process. The environment of the classroom is essential to the development of class community. By creating that safe environment, students are able to foster their learning. The development of a class community online is different than in a face to face setting but still needs to be present.”

  • Conclusions

Catherine sees that bonding is as important online as for a face-to-face class.

“If the bond within a classroom is important for a typical face to face classroom we must ensure that the same level of belonging is incorporated into distance learning courses as well.”


  • Connecting or building on ideas of others

Emily is relating the importance of connecting to the instructor to connecting to fellow classmates.

“I agree with you that students need to feel connected to the community in order to feel a sense of belonging and are willing to take the risks necessary to learn the material. I think that the idea that students are connected to the teacher is a clear benefit and we know we can do this by being an active presence in the classroom. I also think it is important for online students to be connected to each other.”

  • Creating solutions

Alex sees cohorts as being one thing that can help build online community.

“Establishing community as well as a cohort is one method in establishing a campus-like community.  Cohorts provide students with support as well as the different expertise of the various members of the group. The students participating in the study expressed that they felt the cohort system gave the program the ability to build relationships among students. These relationships played a key role in the sharing of information and skills. Other students expressed that they felt that the cohort community fostered support and they enjoyed being able to communicate and collaborate with peers sharing similar careers and goals.”

  • Synthesis or convergence of information

Arnaldo is bringing together Alex’s idea of cohorts with his experience.

“The idea of a cohort and the essence of it creating a community is something that never even passed my mind. Cohorts do, in fact, make up a portion of “go-to” help, sort of say, due to their group effort. Aside the help, they also offer a very welcoming feeling, as everyone knows they are there for the same reasons and started off from the same starting point, and hopefully will finish at the same time! At all the universities that I have attended, I have definitely felt school pride, and can now start to see how that could be minimized on online programs.”


  • Apply New Ideas

Applications of student learning can be seen in the course development project.  For example, Catherine included a course community discussion area, introduction discussion, and introduction video in her course to help build community.

Example #3 – Exploring flipped classroom, perplexity and their connection to learning

Triggering Event

  • Sense of puzzlement

Emily is interested in learning more about flipped classroom.

“This spring was the first time I was introduced to the idea of a flipped classroom. I attended a high school mathematics teaching seminar where one of the presenters had successfully flipped their Algebra 2/Trig classroom. I thought about it for a minute and then passed by. After I read your post asking if I’d considered a flipped classroom, I decided to do some actual research.”


  • Divergence

Emily brings in the debate of a teacher’s role in flipped classroom.

“The article Still in Favor of the Flip describes a flipped classroom as well as the debate that has been going around about flipping classrooms in the high school. The debate seems to be centered around the idea of the role of the teacher. Should the teacher be more of a lecturer or should the class be more of a project based inquiry type class. I personally believe the future of education is in project based, what are your thoughts? What should the role of the teacher be in the classroom to prepare our students for the future?”

  • Information exchange

Emily is describing what a flipped classroom is for her classmates

“For those of you that don’t know a flipped classroom is where students have access to the new material at home and while they are in school or class they work on applying these new skills and engaging in activities.”

  • Suggestions

Andrea brings in a few ways that she has structured lessons around goals

“While I have no experience teaching in a classroom I can relate.  I have had students where they seemed to ride just for fun and i structured my lessons with very few goals for them, while other students came to lessons with many sometimes unrealistic goals.  I believe that I did strive to create a mastery-oriented environment, even if I did not know the term at the time.  For the student who was there just for fun I would make sure they knew what my expectations were for safely participating, behaving and learning how to ride.  While for the student who showed up with many of their own goals I would work with them to develop realistic, achievable goals and then push them to work harder, letting them struggle and fail occasionally.  Their failing was not however a failure in a broader sense.”

  • Brainstorming ideas

Emily is brainstorming ideas about how to teach math online.

“I was skeptical about how you can teach an online math class, but I really think that it is a perfect environment for problem solving and teaching students math and problem solving skills. It gives students to work together on real problems and access to information to work together in solving these problems. I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to set up my class yet. I’m thinking giving students the basics (how to solve equations, graphing, the things you learned about in math classes) where they will be quizzed on the information, but then also giving the a set of real life problems where they will be assigned groups to work on. I’m thinking of having one of the problems be related to the topics at hand but the others being a combinations of different skills they have learned throughout the course.”


  • Connecting or building on ideas of others

Andrea is relating goal-oriented theories to perplexity.

“The goal oriented theories, specifically having a mastery-goal seems to be the most supportive of perplexity in the classroom, or in a learning environment. As discussed in this presentation the goal-oriented theories can be looked at as either a “mastery-goal” or a “performance-goal”.  A mastery-goal situation is described as a “safe place to struggle and learn”.  This point of view is also supported by Shiang Wang in her paper on Motivation that was referenced earlier.”

  • Synthesis or convergence of information

Andrea is bringing together the ideas of learning environment, goals, and perplexity.

“If in order to create an environment where students are engaged in mastery-goal based learning we must view our classroom or learning environment as the “safe place to struggle and learn” that implies embracing perplexity.  It seems that there is a balance to be found between creating challenges that are achievable while still engaging, and creating tasks that focus on mastery-goals rather than performance-goals.   When asking how challenging should a task be to find that balance Wang offers the following guidance: “Setting up rigid and realistic goals based on the learner’s competence, therefore, is more effective than setting easy goals.”

  • Creating solutions

Andrea came to the conclusion that challenging students is important for learning

“I have been thinking about both perplexity and motivation and how to relate what I have learned to the design of my course.  First I am realizing that my instinctual desire to challenge students is helpful in promoting perplexity.  As long as its done with learner-based goals in mind so that there is a balance between achievable and challenge.  This balance is what will keep my students motivated.”


  • Apply New Ideas

Andrea is discussing how to apply different ideas about motivation to classroom teaching.

“If we apply this to a teaching setting we can see that if students perceive grade inequality, favoritism or other situations where they perceive themselves as not being treated equally with the rest of their peer group they will be distressed. We can also surmise that they will change their behavior. For example a student who feels they worked very hard and that their effort was not rewarded as much as their classmates might put less effort into subsequent assignments.”

As you can see from the examples above, student learning is fostered through the discussion and discourse created in the course.  I observed that the discussion creates opportunity to expand the number of concepts and to “dig deeper” into a subject. This also relates to cognitive apprenticeship through increasing the complexity and diversity of the subjects. Collins, Brown and Holum (1991) state that increasing complexity refers to sequencing of concepts to move towards higher levels. They also state that increasing diversity is the organization of concepts so that a wider variety of subject would be covered over time (Collins, Brown, & Holum,1991).  I suspect that the authors meant that the instructor would specifically design these strategies.  In this case, increased diversity and complexity occur in the student-centered environment of the discussion.  I think these examples still apply as the instructor does actively facilitate the discussion which helps develop both of these areas.


Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Understanding cognitive presence in an online and blended community of inquiry: Assessing outcomes and processes for deep approaches to learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 233-250.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.


Facilitating Discourse includes a variety of Teaching Strategies

According to Garrison and Vaughan (2008), “teaching presence is essential to bring all the elements together and ensure that the community of interest is productive.”  One part of teaching presence is facilitating productive discourse, which is necessary to maintain student engagement in a learning community (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008).  Indicators of facilitating discourse include identifying of areas of agreement and disagreement, seeking to reach consensus and understanding; encouraging, acknowledging, and reinforcing student contributions; setting the climate for learning, drawing in participants, prompting discussion, and assessing the efficacy of the process (Shea, Sau Li, & Pickett, 2006).  Let’s take a look at some examples of facilitating discourse from ETAP640:

1. Facilitating discourse requires that one identifies areas of agreement and disagreement

  • The instructor describes to a student which ideas are on the right track, and where her understanding must be revised to improve the learning environment.
    • Everyone has preconceptions and makes assumptions. Questioning them, challenging people to look at their preconceptions and assumptions can catalyze change and learning. So, i think your idea of using discussion to have people confront their beliefs is spot on.  Where you veer off the track is in talking about the “job of the teacher.”
  • Here Alicia discusses her agreement for the need of informal communication in an online course, but also brings in the opposing view for requiring formal academic writing.
    • One of the biggest challenges facing online students and instructors is the modality’s inherent need for academic writing.
    • I do think it is appropriate to promote a positive, supportive environment with humor and informal communications. However, there has to be a distinction between interactions that are meant to foster and demonstrate learning versus those intended mostly to build community.
  • Linda also states her agreement with another student’s statement, but brings in a differing view, that each institution interprets FERPA differently.
    • While philosophically I personally agree with the highlighted text concerning FERPA, it should be noted that FERPA policy for a given campus or school is an administrative decision.

Through identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, instructors and students are able to tease out additional issues or areas of discussion.  This also helps students to develop their understanding through critically analyzing and writing about a topic.  I also see this as a metacognitive strategy that students use in discussion.  I often see myself and others saying “I agree with this thought, but for this aspect I have a different perspective”.  This technique fosters a rich discourse among the members of the community.

2. Pushing students to reach consensus and understanding is another aspect of facilitating discourse:

  • Here the instructor is asking one student to research an area of discussion further and come back to teach the class about it.  The instructor is prompting the student to help revise the understanding of the subject.
    • Elena: Please dig into the issues and criticisms of this pervasive movement. Come back and tell us what you have learned.
  • The instructor is asking a student to research and explain the roots and foundation of a statement they made.  This will deepen the understanding of the topic.
    • Can you find underlying theory to deepen our understanding of why a sense of class community is important to a learning community?
  • Again, the instructor is pushing students to go deeper, research, and critically analyze the topic that is being discussed.  This should lead to a better understanding.
    • What do critics say about MI?  What do critics say about learning styles?  What does the research say?  What do you think and what did you learn about looking into this from the research perspective?

Pushing students in this way not only improves their understanding of a topic, but also creates more discourse around a subject in order to resolve the issue.  Students may bring in different topics, evidence, theory, research, and related applications etc. to support their stance.  I believe that this helps to add to the domain knowledge included in each module.  Not only are students learning about a particular phase of the course development process, they are also learning about specific theory and foundational knowledge that explains what they are doing and why they should do it in a certain way.  Many additional topics are woven into the course in this way.

3. Encouraging, acknowledging, and reinforcing student contributions allow students to feel like their participation is valuable.  I believe that this encourages students to engage in the discourse more often and add more to the discussion.  Here are some examples:

  •  Here Catherine is thanking her classmate for mentioning a new method that will be helpful to her.
    • Thank you so much for the suggestions!! I love the STAR method of interviewing. I have continued to research it and think that I will use that in my class starting in September. I think that the concentrate method to answer questions gives the students a guideline on how to answer. This really breaks down the key points that people should make when answering a question. I think that this will be essential for my students and helpful to all students. They are able to practice this process and then apply it in real life situations.
  • The instructor is acknowledging  a student’s breakthrough.
    • Mike: this is so exciting. you have identified your design challenges now the fun and creativity part of the problem is identifying solutions that will work given the options and limitations of the online teaching and learning environment, the nature of the material, the characteristics of your students, and who you are and how you want to teach it. I can’t wait to see what you do with this!
  • Samantha is appreciative of Donna’s question about the nature of discussion in a graded environment
    • I love a good question.  In a graded environment you are right in asking if students will feel comfortable voicing their ideas if they know the teacher is watching. I guess that also depends on many different factors, age, experience, personality. Perhaps, if using a chat room, teachers can set some rules about respect, netiquette, etc. Or maybe the teacher should just leave that space for the students and not enter it. That’s a tough call.

I think that this type of support in an online discussion is crucial to building the feeling of community as well as giving students the confidence to push to the next level in their learning.  In ETAP640, the professor models this behavior throughout the course to students.  When I took the course last summer, I was able to discern a pattern from this modeling that I was able to use in my own posts.  (Acknowledge your classmate’s contributions in your response, go deeper to explore the ideas, bring in additional resources, and ask questions to further the thinking)  I wonder if anyone else has explicitly thought about this pattern seen throughout the discussions in this course.  When many students adopt this pattern, I have noticed that the discussions are much richer and more informative.

4. Drawing in participants and prompting discussion is another way that discourse can be supported in an online course:

  •  The instructor is asking many questions to elicit additional discourse around the topics, and to prompt students to explore the ideas at a deeper level
    • Why do you think that is? Can you identify any pedagogical theory or research that explains what that might be?  What course you are thinking of developing for your project in this course? What challenges do you envision in re-conceptualizing activities/experiences that you want your future online students to have? Do you have any concerns or apprehensions about designing an online course for your topic? What challenges do you thing your students might encounter in your online course?   Sounds like you have taken some online courses in the past. How will that inform your approach to the design of your own online teaching and learning environment?
  • The instructor is building upon a student’s ideas and asking the class to brainstorm additional ideas.
    • If the objective is practice extemporaneously responding to interview questions, then why not break the students into groups have each group brainstorm a set of interview questions. Have the student find some one ask them the questions live, while they record themselves, and then post those videos back to the course for discussion, reflection, analysis, etc.  What other ideas can we brainstorm?
  • Teresa is inviting her classmates to engage in a discussion around the divide between conversational and professional tone in online learning.
    • Is this the appropriate divide between professional and conversational? How do we balance asking for and modeling high quality written work with a conversational tone? When and where within an online course is it appropriate to be more casual? When and where is it critical that the instructor and student writing is professional?

I believe that this strategy is especially important in supporting the discourse in an online course.  Students often can create a discussion post about a topic they are familiar with.  What is more rare/important is to actually engage in a discussion about/around the topic to explore the ideas and reach new levels of understanding.  In the examples above, you see scaffolding through the use of questions to point students in new directions.  In addition, many times these questions are accompanied by the instructions to “teach the class something”.  Since I saw this over and over again in the past two years, it now seems to be embedded in my mind as a metacognitive strategy.  Topical Questions + Dig Deeper + Teach Us Something = Students being given the tools they need to reach higher levels of engagement and understanding.  Students are now armed with some sense of how to achieve high quality interaction in an online discussion.

5. Assessing the efficacy of the process is another way that discourse can be encouraged in an online course:

  • The Instructor directed students to set links to resources to open in a new page.  Also, to try to find public versions of resources to help other students have access.
    • When you create a link in the course to a resource, be sure to set the link to open in a new window/tab, so you don’t loose your place in the course. Also, if you find a resource in the UAlbany system, google it and see if you can find a public source for the resource.
  • Here the instructor is reminding a student of the necessary parts of a discussion post, as well as inviting the student to delve deeper in exploring topics in the discussion.
    • In terms of the structure of your post: The only thing missing from this post is bookmarking your 2 shared  resources/citations  in diigo.  Don’t worry too much about the ratings, they are guides to help you learn to apply the rubric.
      In terms of the content of your post: i would like you to dig deeper into the theories of learning styles and multiple intelligences and teach us more about them.
  • The instructor is trying to prompt students to improve their posts through asking a series of questions to encourage them to “dig deeper”.
    • Research learner-centered instruction, andragogy, and heutagogy and come back and teach us about adult learning theories and approaches. How do these theories support the assertions, observations, opinions and personal experiences you mention in your post? How do they inform your understanding? How will you use this information to inform your course design and your online teaching practices?

By holding students accountable to the instructions and outlined process of discussion, the instructor is able to encourage greater discourse.  The instructor can assess the quality by seeing the depth of the discussion.  This information leads the instructor to be able to use various techniques to facilitate deeper learning.  Two of these strategies also align with the cognitive apprenticeship theory.  You can see many examples throughout the discussions where the instructor ask questions, give suggestion and ask students to “teach us something”.  I believe this is scaffolding students to reach a new level of understanding and learning.  In addition, by using these techniques repeatedly throughout the course, the instructor is also modeling how to facilitate discussion in an online course.

As mentioned above, some of the indicators of facilitating discourse tie into the cognitive apprenticeship theory.  Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) state that scaffolding is when a teacher provides support in order to enable the students to perform a certain task.  In ETAP640, one way the instructor provides scaffolds in the form of questions and suggestions that help students to engage deeper in the discussion.  In my experience in ETAP640, many of these scaffolds became metacognitive approaches that enabled me to assess and improve my own work. “Decisions about how to proceed in a task generally depend on an assessment of one’s current state relative to one’s goals, on an analysis of current difficulties, and on the strategies available for dealing with difficulties” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). ETAP640 students can learn much about developing their own learning strategies through the scaffolds throughout the course.

I believe that one of the unique aspects of ETAP640 is that students are pushed to explore additional domain knowledge through the discussions.  From the examples above, you can see that students are pushed to explore, research, and analyze additional resources.  This brings in additional concepts, facts, and procedures, which are known as domain knowledge (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991).  Another interesting aspect of this course is that the instructor is modeling good practice for teaching online throughout the course. “Modeling involves an expert’s performing a task so that the students can observe and build a conceptual model of the processes that are required to accomplish it” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). I can say that I have learned about facilitating discourse through the instructors modeling.  I believe this because I know use many of the modeled strategies as control strategies in my own learning.


Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. John Wiley & Sons.

Shea, P., Sau Li, C., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(3), 175-190.

Interactivity, Intrinsic Motivation, and Student Cooperation

According to Tu and McIsaac (2002), social presence is the amount a student feels they are part of a community in an online course.  Social Presence is seen through three types of indicators: affective, cohesive, and interactive (Swan, 2002).  These actions encourage relationship building, promote contact, reinforce connection, and reflect a supportive environment (Rourke, Anderson,  Garrison, &  Archer, 2007).

In this post, I would like to examine examples of strategies that promote social presence through improving the interactive nature of the communication.  Aragon (2003), states that certain behaviors can establish feelings of immediacy.  Some examples that I see classified as interactive indicators are engaging in conversation, expressing appreciation, questioning, encouraging feedback, and personalizing.  According to Rourke et al. (2007), “Using the “reply” feature to post messages, quoting directly from the conference transcript, and referring explicitly to the content of others’ messages are all types of interactive response”.  Let’s take a closer look at several examples for ETAP640.

Examples of Continuing a Thread in the discussion:

  • Elena is relating to Catherine’s post, and expanding on the idea in her response
    • I think that your idea of positive discipline goes very well with the idea of creating a safe, welcoming climate for students in the f2f classroom. By using positive reinforcement to reward positive behaviors, it can help to reduce class disruptions and alter negative behaviors – whether this is through a reward system or just through emotional reinforcement.  I think this could be applied to an online setting, especially in developing a class community.
    • Catherine is reiterating and expanding on Elena’s idea of respecting diverse students
      • You bring up a great point, teachers must respect the diverse talents and ways of learning. Each student is different and we as teachers should create an environment where the students feel comfortable to learn.

                Teachers must also always respect their students.

  • Arnaldo is continuing Alena’s idea of international education in his post about foreign language in an online environment
    • I have been thinking of ideas to successfully create a course to teach foreign languages online. One of the first things that come to mind when engaging students to a computerized world is the anxiety level they feel towards technology.

As we see from the examples above, the ability to reply in a discussion board allows students to continue a thread, building on ideas and refining understanding along the way.  Through organizing a discussion board with replies and responses to each other, this medium takes on more of a conversational feel.  I believe that this helps to build the immediacy between students in an online course.

Many times students will Quote from other Messages in their posts in order to analyze a point further, or to refer to a specific idea that they would like to discuss:

  • Arnaldo quotes the questions from a classmates that he will address in his reply
    • Moving forward, to answer your questions, “In an online course, how can we recreate a seating arrangement that allows students to really see one another when they are interaction?”
    • Jessica emphasizes a passage through using the quote in her post, as well as for the post title
      • “teach the class about what I wrote”
      • George uses a quote describing a classmates thought process to make a personal connection through a shared interest
        • “Just yesterday I started thinking about how a launch controller… So I thought about it, creating a million questions, then went to Radio Shack to buy some parts and put what I came up with together.  Testing it today, so if I don’t come back…you know why (I haven’t figured out how to include a safety key yet).” This brought back many found memories of when I was a boy and made and sold launchers to my friends. It was one of my earliest get-rich schemes that ended as usual – down a few bucks, but owning a few new tools. I’d love to see your design!

I believe that personalizing the conversation is a particularly important part of establishing social presence.  Many believe that online education may be inferior because it lacks personal connection through the electronic medium.  By explicitly referring to each other’s messages, we are better able to cultivate a personal connection.  We are communicating through a text based medium as many have before our time (through written letters).  Through adopting certain devices to improve communication and understanding in other formats, we surely can make online education a more personal experience.

Student and the instructor may also Refer explicitly to other messages during the discussion activity:

  • Here the instructor  refers to a previous message as an example to specifically make a point about social presence
    • Socially supportive posts and connections like yours with Teresa help us develop a sense of class community. Trust is built as you reach out and find common interests and experiences with your classmates. So glad you made this connection and this post that highlights the importance of affective expressions and social cohesion in in group dynamics.
    • Samantha is referring to a classmate’s post while highlighting the points that resonated with her
      • I love your points on creating a community in which students feel comfortable to learn.
      • The instructor is asking the student to clarify certain points in a previous post
        • Would you make it clearer to me that you understand what you are saying in your first sentence?

Similarly to quoting from other’s messages, referring to their posts also establishes the feeling of conversation.  Through creating a “back and forth” type of communication, students are naturally establishing connections and relationships with peers.  This not only serves their exploration of course concepts, but also establishes trust and social support needed for students to be open in an online course environment.

Asking questions also supports social presence as well as keeps the conversation going and could even contribute to teaching presence and cognitive presence:

  • The instructor here is asking the student to look into the theory behind a concept.  This furthers the discussion, brings in related information, and challenges the students to teach the class about the idea of social presence.
    • What are the theoretical underpinnings that help us understand why this might be important in online instruction?
    • Here the instructor is pushing the student to not only recall/understand her f2f practices, but to also think how they could apply to the new environment of online teaching.
      • How will your f2f practices inform your online practices?
      • Teresa is asking her peers to come up with ways that the idea of “seeing” in an online course could be applied
        • What else can instructors do to improve class community in an online course so that students are able to “see” who they are communicating with?

In ETAP640, students are encouraged to post questions to their peers. In terms of cognitive presence, I believe this promotes an environment of inquiry.  According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking (2007), “Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions.”  Questions from your peers may spark your thinking and inspire you to explore related concepts and ideas.  This also supports social presence through giving your peers a natural place for you to keep the conversation going.  This truly allows the discussion board to be a place of interaction between students, peers, and instructors.

Another form of interactive social presence is Complimenting and Expressing Appreciation to others in the course:

  • Samantha compliments her peer on her work
    • Great intelligence argument Alicia
    • Linda thanks Alena for contributing a relevant resource to the discussion
      • Alena thank you very much for the Willoughby article.
      • Arnaldo recognizes and expresses appreciation for Teresa asking him to consider additional ideas
        • The question you have posted Teresa Dobler, is an interesting question! First and foremost, I appreciate the feedback you have provided me with.

Complimenting and expressing appreciation are important in relationship building. As relationships and connections are the foundation of community, this is one crucial way to support the building of community in an online course.  “Reinforcement is the object that fuels the development and maintenance of interpersonal interaction. Complimenting and acknowledging, and expressing appreciation are ways of communicating reinforcement in a text-based medium” (Rourke et al., 2007).  With utilizing these strategies for reinforcement, I believe community can be better sustained through the period of an online course.

Expressing agreement is also considered an interactive social response:

  • Samantha describes how Alicia’s argument makes sense to her
    • You and your research bring up a good argument! The more I actually think about it the more that “cognitive styles” seem more suiting then intelligences.
    • Mike agrees that a tool is particularly useful
      • I agree with you about voice thread being beneficial for students to use.
      • Elena agrees with and appreciates Catherine’s ideas being added to the discussion
        • You make some excellent points, Catherine.  The idea of growing a rapport with students is incredibly valuable.

Aragon (2003) states that shared values and a feeling of kinship make people feel more comfortable in social situations.  Through expressing agreement with your peer’s ideas, you are providing social support as well as indicating that you have shared views and values.  This helps to strengthen the sense of community among a group of learners, as well as encouraging individuals to more openly share their opinions.

This social aspect can also be tied to apprenticeship theory.  According to Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991); situated learning, community of practice, intrinsic motivation, and cooperation of peers must be considered in adopting a cognitive apprenticeship strategy.  Intrinsic motivation is seen when “students perform tasks because they are intrinsically related to an interesting or at least coherent goal” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991).  When I think about interactivity in an online course, intrinsic motivation comes to mind.  Through posing questions and replying to each other’s thread, students are internally motivated to explore the material.  In addition, at the beginning of the course, the instructor often poses many questions that are designed to get students to articulate their goals and interests for the course.  I think this is particularly important for students to establish intrinsic motivation for their learning in ETAP 640.

In cognitive apprenticeship, it is thought that students must work together in a way that fosters cooperative problem solving (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). “Learning through cooperative problem solving is both a powerful motivator and a powerful mechanism for extending learning resources” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991).  By exploring the examples of interactive responses above, we can see that the discussion activity was designed to indeed exploit student cooperation.  A student or the instructor may pose a question, which the remaining students work together to answer.  Students build off each other’s responses, pose additional questions, and are even prompted to “dive deeper” into the subject.  This cooperation not only fosters intrinsic motivation and community building, but also enables a rich and diverse exploration of the course material.


Aragon, S. R. (2003). Creating social presence in online environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2003(100), 57-68.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.

Foundation for Critical Thinking: The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking and Learning (2007). Retrieved from

Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2007). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, 14(2), 50-71.

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23-49.

Tu, C. H., & McIsaac, M. (2002). The relationship of social presence and interaction in online classes. The American Journal of Distance Education, 16(3), 131-150.



Direct Instruction fosters Articulation and Exploration

Shea, Li, and Pickett (2006),  state that “It is through effective design of opportunities to fully engage in such discourse that learners can participate in the pedagogical processes that support learning.” This includes articulation of understanding and considering new perspectives and ideas.  The course should allow for opportunities to reflect upon and integrate new concepts into current understanding (Shea, Li, & Pickett, 2006). I believe that a section of teaching presence known as direct instruction is important in getting students to articulate understanding and explore new ideas.


According to Shea, Li, and Pickett (2006), indicators of direct instruction include presenting content and questions, focusing the discussion on specific issues, summarizing discussion, confirming understanding, diagnosing misperceptions, injecting knowledge from diverse sources and responding to technical concerns.


Examples of the instructor Presenting Content and Questions often occur in the discussion:

  • Questioning around student interests to encourage students to delve deeper into the topic
    • Sounds like you have lots of experiences as an online student. What course are you planning to develop for this course? What would you say what will be the most challenging aspect for you in the design of your first online course? I wonder how those experiences will inform your design decisions as you begin to design your own online course? What have you learned? What will you definitely do or avoid based on your online student experiences in your own online course design or teaching?


  • Summarizing the conceptual discussion and then asking students to how they will apply the ideas
    • Post: Can you “make” someone learn? This is for everyone not just Sam

The instructor summarizes and confirms understanding then asks the question: So, how will you engage your online students?


  • Bringing in new or related ideas into the discussion and asking students to research the ideas and come back to teach the class about it
    • Research learner-centered instruction, andragogy, and heutagogy and come back and teach us about adult learning theories and approaches.


Seen through this indicator of direct instruction, the instructor encourages exploration of new concepts, ideas, and content areas.  The instructor often urges students to dig further into the research and theory surrounding their interests.  Occasionally when several students are discussing an idea, the instructor will intervene with some idea to clarify the concept and then ask further questions to again encourage the discourse and exploration.  Sometimes a new theory is mentioned in response to a student’s post.  Rather than provide an explanation, the student is told to go research the topic and bring it back into discussion.  This manner of presenting content to students is unique because the students are encouraged to do the work to explore and learn about the new ideas, concepts, and applications.


Another indicator of direct instruction is Focusing the Discussion on Specific Issues, here are some examples:


  • Student is summarizing the discussion and redirecting the conversation on a separate but related issue
    • I am aware everyone learns differently, but do you think all types of learners have the potential to succeed in online learning or do certain learners have a better chance at success in the online learning environment?


  • Instructor is directing students to focus and go deeper on a specific concept
    • i would like you to dig deeper into the theories of learning styles and multiple intelligences and teach us more about them.
    • Specifically I would like you to look into the issues, problems, and criticisms of the theories. What empirical research exists that supports these theories?


  • Many times in the discussion the instructor will point students to look at the criticisms of a theory
    • What do critics say about MI?
    • What do critics say about learning styles?
    • What does the research say?
    • What do you think and what did you learn about looking into this from the research perspective?


Focusing the discussion is done in several ways.  Redirecting the conversation to a new or related topic, asking students to focus in on a certain area, or directing students to research criticisms are a few ways of doing this.  By employing these techniques students are again encouraged to explore different concepts and ideas in the process of their learning.  Student research may bring new thoughts, ideas, and theory into their discussion posts.  This enriches the discussion and each student’s learning.


Examples of Summarizing Discussion are most often seen by students in the discussion:


  • Sherri states in her post – Higher order thinking skills in the online environment
    • “I think that is an excellent point that Bloom’s Taxonomy is more teacher-centered.”


  • Catherine states in her post – Differentiated Instruction Online
    • “Differentiating instruction is difficult in the face to face classroom and I could imagine that it would be difficult to do online but I don’t think that it is impossible.”


  • Sam states in her post – Students want positive feedback that creates a connection with their teachers!
    • “I absolutely believe high school students are looking for positive feedback.”


In all three of the above examples, students start their post by summarizing the existing conversation.  I think this type of strategy in the discussion is helpful in multiple ways.  First it helps students to support their peers and build social presence through agreeing with and reiterating their peer’s ideas.  Summarizing previous discussion can help students to articulate the concepts in their own words or point of view.  It also is a way to bridge the discussion to new direction, or to allow students to focus in on a more detailed concept.


You may expect the instructor of the course to be giving the direct instruction, but in ETAP640 students are allowed to take the lead.  I believe this is beneficial for multiple reasons.  Professor Pelz states in his course observation interview for ETAP640 that “reading and writing are more cognitively challenging.”  Writing a summary of the concepts is more cognitively engaging to a student than being directed by the teacher.   This ability to summarize in order to redirect or further the discussion also requires students to articulate their understanding.  This is part of making thinking visible, which is important in cognitive apprenticeship.


Students and the instructor Confirm Understanding in ETAP640:


  • Here the instructor steps in to reinforce a point that students have been discussing and redirect the discussion to related questions
    • The truth is… You can’t actually “make” someone learn. Adults choose to learn. Does that mean that there is no need for “teachers” or that they are irrelevant? Of course not! We become learning designers – we create environments in which students can engage with us, with each other and with content to apply, report, explain, defend, support, reflect, refute, question, summarize, synthesize and analyze… i.e., LEARN.


  • In Linda’s post – Misperceptions and ZPD, she confirms what her classmates were discussing and brings in a related theory
    • I think you are both correct in your assertion that it takes someone with expertise in the field to correct misperceptions. You don’t have to do it yourself though – you can bring them through a process. I am interested in the article on “bridging” Mike posted. This seems to me to be very much in line with the idea of focusing on the Zone of Proximal Development where students get just so far on their own, and then need the class or the teacher to get them to the next step.


  • The instructor confirms a student’s understanding and then refocuses the student to explore the idea further
    • Eureka Mike! What if students could co create their learning objectives? What if they could also co create the rubrics used to assess their learning??? What can you find in the literature about these approaches?


Similar to summarizing and focusing the discussion, I believe that confirming understanding is a way to encourage exploration in the discussion.  Often students can get stuck on the same ideas and concepts.  Through confirming the understanding and redirecting the conversation, students are pushed into looking for related concepts, theories and perhaps even to dive deeper into the subject.


An important part of direct instruction is Diagnosing Misperceptions, here are some examples from the discussion:


  • Instructor explains the difference between being informal and unprofessional
    • Formal vs. conversational is not professional vs unprofessional. Using third person doesn’t make you smart, or professional, and an informal style does not make one inappropriate. Using first and second person as opposed to third person is a simple technique to help your student feel as if you are talking directly to him/her, and makes you seem more approachable. You can use first/second person in a formal style. This strategy does not require being conversational, if that is not how you want to present yourself.


  • Instructor corrects misperception about online learning
    • What makes you think that an online learning environment precludes getting up and moving around!! Just because the course is “online” or a fully online course, or asynchronous does not mean that it is SELF-PACED or that EVERYTHING has to take place online or that everything has to be TEXT!


  • Instructor directs student to examine difference between collaborative and cooperative
    • What are the differences between cooperative and collaborative learning and what are the implications for the design of online learning activities?


It is interesting to me that misperceptions were part of the discussion topics in Module 3.  Students felt that an expert should be the one to uncover and correct misperceptions in student thinking.  From the examples above we see that the instructor is often the one confront and try to correct misperceptions in student thinking.  From my experience, I know that sometimes students also take this role.  I think it is harder for a student to approach another student in this situation.  It is often difficult for a student to change their incorrect thinking from a peer’s intervention as well.  Diagnosing misperceptions is one crucial reason that articulation of student thinking is necessary.  Without making thinking visible to the instructor and peers, it is almost impossible to discover these inaccuracies in understanding.


The instructor designed the course with a variety of resources to be used, but students in particular are encouraged to Inject Knowledge from Diverse Sources in the discussion:


  • Alicia uses a variety of references in her post – Preparing students for the “Flat World”
    • While viewing the Did you Know? video, I also immediately thought of Sir Robinson’s animated video and Ted Talk (2006). It also reminded me of Thomas Friedman (2005)  explaining that we live in a world flattened by the acceleration of economic, educational, and technological global movements that are democratizing opportunities worldwide by facilitating people to “compete, connect, and collaborate.” In order to succeed in this environment, global citizens will need to creatively synthesize, integrate, and operatively utilize content. (Hersh et al,  2009).


  • Sherri includes various sources in her post – Higher order thinking skills in the online environment
    • Bloom’s Taxonomy Blooms Digitally
    • Depth of Knowledge in the 21st Century
    • DoK by Rose Walsh
    • Finding the Right Tool


  • Linda brings in multiple resources regarding differentiation in her post – Smaller chunks and tighter feedback loops aid differentiation


Through the design of the discussion assignments and the instructor’s encouragement to “dig deeper” and “research the literature”, students are required to explore related and relevant theories and to bring the resources back to share with the class.  One of my favorite aspects to the course is the shared bibliography in Diigo.  This not only enables students to share resources easily, it also gives students access to the list beyond the course.  This also relates to the exploration in cognitive apprenticeship, as students are asked to go beyond the course to supplement and support their learning.


Another indicator of Direct Instruction is Responding to Technical Concerns:


  • Instructor responds to a student’s concern about not being able to edit discussion posts
  • Instructor informs students that different browsers display the Moodle site differently
  • Instructor is helped to determine a student’s issues with the diigo links not appearing in the group


According to Collins (1991), “the computer enables us to go back to a resource-intensive mode of education; in a form we call cognitive apprenticeship.”  This requires the instructor to play a new role in educating and responding to student’s technical issues.  In addition students are able to take advantage of the wide range of resources available to support their learning.


The part that I find most interesting is the ability to use online discussion to make thinking visible and encourage students to explore new ideas and concepts.  Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) state that articulation requires the student to clearly describe their understanding, knowledge, reasoning, and thinking processes.  From the examples above, we see that in many ways when students are able to demonstrate teaching presence, they must be able to articulate their knowledge.  In other indicators of teaching presence, the instructor pushes students to explore more research, theory, and resources as well as dig deeper to examine concepts from various perspectives.  “Exploration as a method of teaching involves setting general goals for students and then encouraging them to focus on particular subgoals of interest to them, or even to revise the general goals as they come upon something more interesting to pursue” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991).  I believe this strategy of pushing students to explore related topics is also tied in closely with the articulation part of cognitive apprenticeship.  Students are not only encouraged to make their thinking visible, but also are frequently asked to come back to the discussion and teach the class what they have learned.  From my analysis of these ideas, I can see how articulation and exploration are crucial for students to develop necessary skills in ETAP640.  It is also interesting to see that many of the indicators of teaching presence seem to foster these parts of cognitive apprenticeship.



Collins, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship and instructional technology. Educational values and cognitive instruction: Implications for reform, 121-138.


Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.


Shea, P., Sau Li, C., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(3), 175-190.


Instructional Design Elements Lay the Groundwork for Student Learning Strategies

In my last post, I explored how social presence helped to establish the community of practice within the learning environment for ETAP640.  In this post, I would like to examine examples of teaching presence that involve Instructional Design and Organization practices.  According to Shea, Li, and Pickett (2006),  teaching presence “supports the development of higher levels of community among online learners—that goal-directed collaborative interaction known to support a sense of connectedness and active learning can be effectively orchestrated by the three elements of teaching presence: effective design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes on the part of online instructors.”


For instructional design and organization, several categories are included, such as setting curriculum, designing methods, establishing time parameters, utilizing the medium effectively, and establishing netiquette.  (Shea, Li, & Pickett, 2006).


Some examples of Setting the Curriculum in ETAP 640 include:

  • Establishing clear course objectives
  • Outlining the instructor’s expectations for the course
  • Giving specific examples of course activities in the Course Overview
    •  “Specifically, we will model, examine, and share strategies, best practices, and results of current research on key topics in online education and asynchronous learning environments.”

In the course information documents, the instructor sets the curriculum for the course by clearly outlining what the student will need to do in the course.  The course overview lists specific tasks and skills that students will conduct as participation for the course.  Course objectives are measurable, achievable, and written directly to the student.  The instructor also explicitly states her expectations of the students.  All of these things help to set the topics and skills that students must master in this course, as well as help student to start to form learning strategies for being successful in online teaching.

Designing Methods examples are seen in the Interaction page of the course home page:

  •  “Every post you make in this course is an exam. Each post is your opportunity to make your thinking visible and to show us how you are understanding, interpreting, and engaging with the content presented by me and by your fellow classmates.”
  • “Make your understanding and learning VISIBLE! Your posts must introduce relevant information that teach us something new.”
  • “Create a meaningful subject for EVERY document that you post in this course! The subject line for your post must be a complete thought that conveys the main teaching point of your message.”

Through the interaction document, the instructor begins to design the methods that the students must use in their learning.  Within this document, the instructor encourages higher-level learning through stating,  “every post is an exam”.  Posts should not only interpret and analyze concepts, students should strive to teach the class something new.  In addition, each post must have a meaningful title, which serves as an abstract for the post.  This is an advanced organizer for classmates and also helps students learn to summarize their thoughts.  By describing these specific methods for completing the activities, the instructor is pushing students in their learning, and training them to use learning strategies to further their learning.

There are a few places that time parameters are established for ETAP640:

  • Course Schedule contains all of the deadlines for each module in the course
  • Each module contains a “What’s Due When” page that describes all of the assignments due in each module
  • Evaluation – “Publish at least 2 high quality posts per module, at least one per week, at the end of each week of a module (you will produce a total of 12 blog posts for this course).”

Within the course information documents, the instructor includes a schedule to help students budget and plan their time throughout the course.  The evaluation document further describes that two blog posts are due for each module, one at the end of each week.  In each module, there is a “What’s Due When” document that lists all of the activities due for the module.  All of these items communicate the work required of the student for each point of the course.

Examples of utilizing the medium effectively include:

  • How to Participate in this Discussion instructions
  • Blogging in this course instructions
  • Computer Skills Self-Assessment Assignment: Know Yourself

Included in the instructional design of ETAP640, there are also mechanisms for teaching the students to use the medium effectively.  Students are instructed on how to participate in the discussion and blogging activities.  This scaffolding provides students the support needed to fully engage in these activities.  A self-assessment of computer skills is part of the first module, which helps students to identify skills they are lacking.  These are all important tools for enabling students to engage fully in the online learning medium.

The instructor also describes certain rules to follow which establishes netiquette in the course:

  • Outlining appropriate methods of Contact
    • “Please use the mechanisms in this course as detailed below way communicate with me! For general questions, use the “ask a question” links and areas provided throughout the course, please reserve the use course mail for issues that are personal/private in nature.”
    • In the Interaction document, the instructor describes how students can support social presence
      • “It is OK to respond with non-informative posts. In fact, sometimes good practice is to thank someone for their help, or simply let them know you agree. Socially supportive comments such as these can add valuable “social presence” to the course, and help to create a sense of class community.”
      • How to Participate in this Discussion includes instructions explicitly on netiquette
        • “As the discussion is of a public nature, please observe proper “netiquette” — courteous and appropriate forms of communication and interaction. This means no personal attacks, obscene language, or intolerant expression. All viewpoints should be respected.”

Netiquette is very important in an online course.  Instructors must include rules for students to interact and communicate within the course.  One of the important guidelines to include in the course design is to include methods of communication that are most convenient for the instruction.  By training students to streamline communication, instructors are better able to manage questions and concerns.  Within the interaction document, the professor instructs students to help build community through socially supportive comments.  In the discussion instructions, specific guidelines are provided for proper behavior and communication in the forums. All of the elements establish netiquette in the course, and aid students in being successful online learners.


How does this all relate to Cognitive Apprenticeship?

Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) state, “Learning strategies are strategies for learning any of the other kinds of content described above. Knowledge about how to learn ranges from general strategies for exploring a new domain to more specific strategies for extending or reconfiguring knowledge in solving problems or carrying out complex tasks.”  Through many of the elements of instructional design discussed above, the course is able to help students master learning strategies.  Not only do students learn specific strategies for teaching online, but more importantly students adopt learning strategies for online learning.  I especially believe this is true because I have been able to use strategies such as adding socially supportive comments, and the meaningful post titles in my classes after ETAP640.  I find that I am more equipped to engage in deep learning around the concepts of the course, because I understand netiquette and the importance of delving deep into discussion with my peers.  All of these learning strategies that I have developed in ETAP640 make me a better online student and increase the quality of education that I am receiving.


Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.

Shea, P., Sau Li, C., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(3), 175-190.

Social Presence and Community of Practice

In ETAP 640, we study the Community of Inquiry framework for online learning.  The model assumes that learning is supported in a community through the interaction of social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 1999).  From my observation of the course so far, I have seen how social presence is being firmly established early in the course.

Social presence is seen as the social and emotional communication that is shared within a community (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 1999). According to Swan (2002), cohesive, affective, and interactive responses are required to support social presence.  In this post I would like to take a look specifically at cohesive and affective responses that are seen in the beginning of the course.  I believe that these indicators of social presence are crucial to building the community of practice, which will benefit students for the rest of the course.

Indicators of cohesive responses are vocatives, using inclusive pronouns, and using phatics/salutations (Swan & Shih, 2005). Let’s look at some examples from the 2014 and 2013 ETAP640 courses.

Examples of the use of vocatives:

1. Expressing welcome posts directly to students:

  • Hello Alena!!
  • Norana! 3 courses?
  • Hi Emily!
  • No traitor here, Catherine, Welcome! : )
  • Welcome Sherri! I love this post : )
  • ¡Alicia Bienvenida! – Now that is a 4-point post!
  • Yay!! George is back!

2. Using student’s names in post titles for encouragement:

  • Not, bad Teresa…
  • Brilliant post, Robin!
  • Great intelligence argument Alicia

3. Expressing encouragement directly to students in assignment feedback (2013):

  • Nice job so far, Kevin. I can’t wait to see course take shape. I think I would like to take this course  : )
  • This looks like it can be a great course Matt! Can’t wait to see it!
  • I am so looking forward to seeing this course unfold. Nice job so far Diana!
  • This looks like it will be a great course, Hedy. I can’t wait to see it!

From examining how Professor Pickett has used direct expressions in this course, I see that vocatives support social presence by helping students and instructors establish personal connections.  When an instructor directly addresses a student, the instructor comes across as having an interest in each individual student.  This is important because it is easy for students to feel alienated from the instructor in an online course.  Scorza (2005) states “These students, in turn, become desensitized as their instructors begin to appear almost robotic in their provocations and responses.” I believe it is important to maintain a personal style of communication, in order to avoid distancing yourself from students through generic and impersonal interactions.  From examples 2 and 3 above, we also see the importance of addressing students by name when you are giving feedback.  I believe that this displays empathy, recognizes students’ hard work, and helps students to realize that feedback/criticisms are meant to be constructive and helpful.

Now let’s look at the professor’s use of inclusive pronouns, here are some examples:

1. Welcome

  • “This course will give us a forum in which to present, explore, evaluate, and discuss effective online teaching and learning environments and practices. Not only will we want to reflect on these principles, but we can also use this venue to help one another identify ways to implement them in our new courses. “

2. Overview

  • “Specifically, we will model, examine, and share strategies, best practices, and results of current research on key topics in online education and asynchronous learning environments.”
  • “We will also discuss your questions, concerns, and perspectives on what constitutes good practices in the online asynchronous teaching and learning environment.”

3. Directing “everyone” to a post in the discussion

  • This post applies to everyone – a real horse is better than a simulation, video, audio, images, or text!
  • Think outside your box – this post is for everyone not just Donna : )

These examples of inclusive language show how the instructor is trying to establish a feeling of community early in the course.  In the course overview information the instructor is setting the curriculum as well as establishing the sense of community by stating the activities that students will do together.  The students are going on a journey together and are expected to help each other throughout the experience.  Through utilizing the word “everybody” in post titles, the instructor is talking to the group at large.  This also gives the sense that this is a lesson meant for everyone to learn, which also fosters the formation of a learning community.


Here are some examples of Phatic Communication and Salutations:

1. Welcome Audio Message

  • “Buckle Up – the course is about to start”

2. Welcome Voki Message

  • “I will see you in the course”

3. Instructor’s post title in response to first student

  • Jumping in head first! : )

The use of this type of language is particularly interesting to me because it makes me draw comparisons to other areas of life.  By using expressions that bring to mind other familiar scenarios, perhaps we can become more comfortable in an online environment?  At the end of the audio welcome message, the professor says “Buckle up the course is about to start”.  I take this as a signal to get ready because we are going to be moving (almost as if we are on a roller coaster).  This is a very non-formal way of encouraging students to prepare for the course.  In the Voki message, Professor Pickett says “I will see you in the course”.  This reminds me of a joke my grandfather always would say when I would call him.  He would ask ” how are you” and I would respond “good” and then he would say “your looking good” and then we would both laugh.  I think this was his way of building that closeness, even when I was away at college or when I moved away for work.  I think by saying “you are looking good” or “I will see you in the course” it makes it seem like a more personal conversation.  Using the expression “Jumping in head first” as a post title reassures students to get started on the discussion, but also is an example of a creative subject line (which is one of the course requirements).


Indicators of affective responses include expression of emotions, use of humor, and self-disclosure (Swan & Shih, 2005).

Let’s look at some places where the instructor and students expressed emotions:

1. Welcome

  • Take a breath, relax, this is going to be fun!  Alex : )

2. Uses emoticons and language to help student feel welcome

  • No traitor here, Catherine, Welcome! : )
  • Glad to have you join us, Catherine!

3. Alex’s introduction

  • I am very excited about the opportunity to share with you what I have learned about effective online course design in this course.

In the welcome message, the professor is trying to promote a feeling of relaxation.  When telling students that the course is a lot of work, she also wants to display the feeling that the course will be fun and achievable if they take it one step at a time. In the introduction discussion, it appeared that a student felt a bit unsure about the class since her alma mater was a rival.  The professor uses the smiley face and emotional language to help her feel welcomed in the course environment. There are also a few places where the professor shares her excitement with students.  This can help to get students excited and interested as well.  I think this also speaks to the reason the professor is teaching.  Not for money, but rather to share her knowledge and passion for the subject.  I believe that seeing an instructor’s passion can also give the instructor’s personality dimension in an online format.


Here are some examples of how humor can enhance the social presence in a course:

1. Instructor’s reminder to a student to use the rubric for discussion posts

  • Donna: the rubric, please  : ) me

2. Post Title by Andrea – Can I get a plug-in horse? Challenges await.

3. Post title by Alex in response to technical problem – curiouser and curiouser

In the first example, the instructor is using a bit of a humorous tone to give a student a gentle reminder about using the rubric to structure her discussion posts. In Andrea’s post title: “Can I get a plug in horse?”, she is bringing in humor when considering how to re-conceptualize her course for the online environment.  In the last example, the instructor uses a phrasing from Alice in Wonderland to be lighthearted with a student who is experiencing technical difficulties. I think all of these examples show how humor can lighten the mood and help teachers and students to relax in the online environment.  After all, we often enjoy laughing and having fun in a face to face course – why not in an online course?

Finally, let’s look at some self-disclosure that I found in our course:

1. Professor Pickett’s Introduction

  • “My husband and I had our baby, Isabella (Isa for short) 12 years ago. She is a beautiful, amazing, joyful peanut. I can’t believe how fast she has grown.”

2. Welcome Audio Message

  • “SLN was the funnest thing I ever did until I had my baby about nine years ago”
  • “I have 2 fish, puppy, patient and understanding husband, and most wonderful daughter”
  • “screaming to read just one more chapter before bedtime – please mommy”

3. Catherine’s Post title: A little overwhelmed but excited about developing this course

Self-disclosure is often seen at the beginning of a course which has an introduction activity.  In ETAP640, the professor shares personal information about her family in her introduction post.  This enables students to see the instructor as a real multidimensional person.  The welcome message discloses much about the professor.  Her love for her career in SLN and online teaching and learning are particularly evident.  I especially love the anecdote about her daughter wanting to stay up later to read more.  This reveals that she faces similar struggles as many parents do.  This also may help students in the class who have children better relate to her.  In Catherine’s post title, she discloses her apprehension about developing her online course.  This type of sharing between students supports community, as students may create bonds through shared feelings of apprehension, excitement, etc.


Linking Social Presence factors to Cognitive Apprenticeship

According to Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991), “Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible.”  When looking at this course through the lens of cognitive apprenticeship, I realize that the social presence factors heavily contribute to forming the community of practice required to support this type of teaching method.   “Community of practice refers to the creation of a learning environment in which the participants actively communicate about and engage in the skills involved in expertise, where expertise is understood as the practice of solving problems and carrying out tasks in a domain” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991).    This to me sounds very similar to the idea of a Community of Inquiry.  Garrison (2007) states “Higher education has consistently viewed community as essential to support collaborative learning and discourse associated with higher levels of learning.”  Both of these ideas reinforce the importance of community in achieving meaningful learning.

Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) state that community of practice involves a personal investment in the community and mutual dependency among the members.  I believe that building a strong sense of community through establishing social presence, fosters the personal connection as well as creates trust between members of the community.  In ETAP640, community members are also encouraged to work together in their learning, which requires mutual dependency.


Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.

Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online Community of Inquiry Review: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Presence Issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), 61-72.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87-105.

Scorza, J. A. (2005). Do online students dream of electric teachers? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(2), 45-52.

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23-49.

Swan, K., & Shih, L. F. (2005). On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(3), 115-136.


Reflecting on Instructional Design for Online Learning

In my first blog post for the summer, I thought I would take to opportunity to reflect on what I have learned about online learning through the lens of my instructional design work in the past year.  Let’s take a look at one of my projects that included an online learning component.

Institutional IPPE Online Component

The Institutional IPPE course is an experiential rotation requiring pharmacy students to work alongside pharmacists in a hospital setting.  To ensure that students can meet certain course objectives, students are required to answer a series of questions that cover the topics.  In the redesign project, the topic questions were utilized as a basis to add an online component.  The online component was designed to support and compliment the experiential learning in the following ways:

  1. Encourage students to be more engaged in the experience of working as a pharmacist in an institution
  2. Foster a deep understanding of the objectives through real life practice
  3. Enable ACPHS faculty to provide formative feedback and guidance during the rotations
  4. Encourage collaboration and peer learning between students at different types of hospitals

By requiring students to answer the questions in an asynchronous discussion board during the rotation, faculty and peers were able to review student work.  This allowed for faculty to provide formative feedback while ensuring that students were writing answers that were accurate, relevant, and appropriate based on their rotation site.  Students were grouped with peers at various types of hospitals, and were asked to review and discuss each other’s answers.  This created an environment where students were able to learn from each other, through sharing information and comparing/contrasting experiences. Since faculty and peers were using a rubric to evaluate student work, the level of work was generally elevated from previous years.  Students were held accountable for writing personal, accurate, and relevant responses.  Students were also encouraged to connect their experiential learning to previous didactic coursework.

One of the most interesting outcomes of this project was to see how the faculty and students naturally displayed indicators of the Community of Inquiry model.  Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (1999) state that a community fosters learning through interaction of three factors: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence.  As part of the redesign, I worked with the faculty to increase the difficulty level of the questions while also wording the assignment to encourage further student exploration.  We saw that students were sharing information, making connections, testing and defending solutions, while also making suggestions to peers.  All of these student actions are indicators of cognitive presence (Akyol & Garrison, 2011).

In addition, faculty prompted students to reach the integration and resolution levels of inquiry through asking additional questions.  Through displaying teaching presence (facilitating discourse), faculty were able to help students engage deeper with the content.  This is an interesting observation to make, since Garrison and Cleveland-Innes (2005) have shown that “teaching presence contributes to the adoption of a deep approach to learning and that interaction by itself does not promote a deep approach to learning.”

Social presence was another area that naturally evolved in this course.  At first faculty were writing very formal short responses.  Over time the instructors started to realize that they must use affective styles to connect with students.  They were learning to use a more personal style of communication; including using humor, emotions, and values.  According to Swan (2002), these indicators can help form group dynamics when there is a lack of nonverbal communication.  The number of cohesive and interactive indicators also increased over the course, as instructors became more familiar with teaching in the online environment.  Greeting/salutations, vocatives, offers of advice, acknowledgements, and encouragement are some examples of indicators seen.  As this was a new format for students and faculty in this course, it makes sense that the social patterns would evolve over time.  In a study conducted by Swan (2002), it was also shown that social presence indicators may vary through the duration of a course in order to maintain group dynamics.

Why not adopt COI from the beginning?

So you may be wondering why we didn’t model this online component design from the COI theory from the start.  Why would you need to let instructors and student naturally stumble upon these factors to improve the online instruction?  I think that is an excellent question, to which I say there are two reasons:

  1. Situational Factors
  2. Exposure, Experience, and Time

According to Fink (2003), situational factors such as context of the teaching and learning situation, nature of the subject, and characteristics of students and faculty; should be carefully considered as you make design choices for the course.  In this situation, online learning was new to almost all students, faculty, and largely for the institution I work for.  Students are not usually asked to write about topics, as many professors rely on multiple choice exams to test the student’s memorization of important drug facts.  Asking students to display higher levels of learning was in itself going to be challenging for the instructors.  As an instructional designer bringing up the theory behind online learning, I saw the faces of my wonderful faculty members glaze over : )  A roundabout strategy I took was to design as many elements as I could into the course, in order to encourage social/cognitive/teaching presence.

In addition to situational factors is the inexperience of the instructors with online teaching.  As an instructional designer, I often feel as though I am a teacher of faculty.  Often faculty will try a new teaching method out and be reserved, not fully understand what is involved, and need to practice just as students need practice.  Even though I do my best to prepare instructors, I often find myself coaching them through teaching when using new methods.  What I have learned is that my support and student satisfaction will end up giving instructors confidence for the next time around.  If the instructor is hesitant to facilitate discussion the first time the course runs, the second time they are much more willing to jump in and try it.  I believe adoption of new instructional methods requires a carefully balance mix of exposure, experience, and time.

In the second running of this course, instructors are much more open to discussions about creating group dynamics through social presence factors, deepening the learning through asking students questions, and supporting peer learning through facilitating discourse.

Maree (4)



Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Understanding cognitive presence in an online and blended community of inquiry: Assessing outcomes and processes for deep approaches to learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 233-250.

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. University of Oklahoma, 27.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The internet and higher education, 2(2), 87-105.

Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23-49.

Finally seeing the big picture…

When I was deciding which course to take over the summer, I wasn’t sure if “Introduction to Online Teaching” was the right choice for me. While it is relevant to my work when helping instructors design their online or blended courses, I am not a teacher in a traditional sense. This course has not only refined my ideas of pedagogy, but also has dragged me into understanding the role technology plays in effective teaching for the 21st century. Now that I am coming to the end of ETAP640, I know that online education in many ways is better suited to today’s student. I have learned how pedagogy can meld with the current technology tools to create effective teaching and learning environments. Taking advantage of this is not only important for online instruction, but can also inform and improve face to face education.

First off through my professional experience and watching the videos A Vision of Students Today and The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity from Wesch. I can see how students are disconnected from our current educational system. I speak with students who only go to class for exams and others who do not purchase the text books. In A Vision of Students Today, students make statements that suggest they are much more engaged by internet and social media than by their teachers, courses and assignments. One statement from this video that particularly struck me was “I’m a multitasker – I have to be.” If today’s students have to balance more responsibilities than in the past, and they are not being engaged in school, how effective can their education be?

So how can online education influence change in our educational system? I believe that these features which I explored in ETAP640 will help us all to improve our skills as educators:

Inquiry Based Learning

According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking(2007) questions are fundamental to instruction, as all statements of knowledge can be seen as answers to questions. They state that “Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions.” I have learned that questions are crucial in fostering student interaction with the concepts. Shea et al. (2003) sees the ability to pose a thought provoking question as important in engaging students in discourse and exploring the thoughts of yourself and others. So from these ideas, I can see that inquiry based activities, where students are encouraged to ask and seek answers to their questions is important in getting students to think deeply about the material.

An interesting observation I have made in ETAP640 is that I often organize my discussion and blog posts around questions that I am thinking about for the material. This has made it more clear to me that my thinking and learning is driven by the questions I ask myself.

Community of Learners

In Swan’s (2002) article, “Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction” she states that interaction with the content, instructor, and classmates is important for building the community of learning in an online course. I believe that community is important for learning because it not only supports learners, but also helps to motivate students through social factors. The interaction with the content, classmates, and instructor engages the student in the process of learning, while fostering the sense of community that motivates 21st century students.

Another thing that I did notice during ETAP640, was that it became more difficult for me to get back into the routine of interaction and engagement expected for this course after Module 5. Module 5 had no discussion so that we could focus on working on our courses. Although I think the lack of discussion in Module 5 is necessary to allow students to focus on their course development, I definitely was struggling with motivation when I felt the connection to my classmates and the instructor fading.

Self Direction and Reflection

Garrison (2003) states “The asynchronous and virtual nature of online learning calls on learners to be self-directed and to take responsibility for their learning. That is, to assume greater control of monitoring and

managing the cognitive and contextual aspects of their learning.” In addition, I have noticed that technology tools such as blogs, wikis, and other social media encourage students to reflect on what they have learned and be more conscious about how they are representing themselves and what they have learned in a public arena. All of these factors equate to students who are more aware and committed to their learning, while producing higher quality assignments.

Through ETAP640, I have really learned how important reflection is for deep learning. It is through my blog posts that I have been able to tie all the ideas together in my head and makes sense out of the information. The course manual suggests that you ask your students why they are taking the course within the ice breaker. Now I understand that asking the students to articulate what they want to get out of the course is an important start to getting them to reflect on their learning and progress throughout the course.


McLoughlin and Luca (2001) state that assessments should allow students to be producers, participate in and contribute to a community, and reflect the construction of knowledge. This kind of assessment works well for online instruction, as it requires students to produce a unique product of learning which gives a more accurate picture of what they have learned. This also reduces cheating, since students need to produce something unique and personal rather than completing a multiple choice test.Moving towards this style of assessment shifts attention away from memorizing factual knowledge for an exam, and enables higher order thinking and learning (McLoughlin & Luca, 2001).

In my course project for ETAP640, I have designed a course for experiential educators. This was an authentic assessment project for me, since I am an instructional designer who designs courses and lessons. I also believe in the importance of experiential education as a form of authentic assessment. Those who recognize how assessment drives learning will agree that creating real life tasks for students can help them engage and learn in a more practical way for their future.

When looking at the above teaching and learning methods in relation to online learning, you can see how these methods are helping students take an active role and personalize their learning. I believe these methods will help us to move away from the passive standardization of our current system to a more personalized student centered environment.

Maree (4)


Foundation for Critical Thinking: The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking and Learning (2007). Retrieved from

Garrison, D. R. (2003). Cognitive presence for effective asynchronous online learning: The role of reflective inquiry, self-direction and metacognition. Elements of quality online education: Practice and direction, 4, 47-58.

McLoughlin, C., & Luca, J. (2001). Quality in online delivery: what does it mean for assessment in e-learning environments. A Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE), 18.

Shea, P. J., Fredericksen, E. E., Pickett, A. M., & Pelz, W. E. (2003). A preliminary investigation of “teaching presence” in the SUNY learning network. Elements of quality online education: Practice and direction, 4, 279-312.

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23-49.

Wesch, M. [mwesch] (2007, October 12). A Vision of Students Today [Video file]. Retrieved from

Wesch, M. [mwesch] (2009, July 16). The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity [Video file]. Retrieved from


My Journey So Far….

When I think back over the past few months, I realize that this journey has been extremely challenging, demanding, and rewarding!  I am exhausted, and I think in a way that is a good thing.  Due to several circumstances outside of my control, I am not sure how much longer I will be able to take classes.  This makes me so sad because I love to learn and I have dreamed of getting my master’s degree for a long time.  The biggest thing this course has taught me is that even if I’m not enrolled in a course, I am still capable of learning a lot and continuing to develop myself professionally.  I can use the tools and skills I have picked up from my ETAP courses to continue on my journey.

How do I know this is possible? 

Well in each discussion post for this course, I have posed questions to myself, gone out to find the research/articles relevant, read and digested them, and made my own conclusions.   In many of these posts, I have written about theories and teaching methods that I have learned about previously, and have been able to relate and apply them to the online environment.  One example of this is a discussion post about Gagne’s Nine Instructional Events, which I learned about last fall.  I found this article Gagne and Laurillard’s Models of Instruction Applied to Distance Education” by Hannon, Umble, Alexander, Francisco, Steckler, Tudor, and Upshaw (2002) which got me thinking about how the nine events could be used in online education.  The article outlined some of the events, such as presenting content in different ways and using various media, and also providing learner guidance through course introductions and orientations.  Other events noted by Gagne were not explored as much in the article, but I was able to make connections to the different things I have learned.  An example is how I stated that recall of prior learning was often stimulated in the discussion area of an online course, through classmates bringing in various resources as well as exploring personal experience.

Another thing that I have noticed on my journey through this course is that I was able to make connections that led to meaningful insights.  During several of the modules, I would read and digest the materials, participate in the discussion, go through the learning activities.  At the end of the module, I would focus my blog post on the major themes that formed in my mind throughout the module.  Often these insights would be main themes introduced in the next module.  I really appreciated that the course was able to allow me to reach these conclusions in my own way, rather than just telling me “the line between direct instruction and facilitation of discourse can be blurred”.   Recognizing this ability in myself has given me a lot of confidence as an instructional designer, and has taught me that the passion that I have for instructional design will allow me to be successful in this field.

The process of blogging in this course has led me to have another really huge insight about reflection.  In previous courses I’ve taken, I have felt that I was so focused on completing the assignments that I really had little chance to digest what I had learned, or what I was learning, connecting, discovering, etc.  Through the blog assignments in this course, I have been able to make the big connections, and form ideas in a way that previously has been difficult for me.  I think this is because we have been encouraged to think about, focus on, and reflect about what and how we are learning.  I feel as though the reflection assignments have provided the context for my brain to think in a different way.  This not only gives me confidence for the future, but it also helps me to discover the connections I have made unconsciously!  It seems kind of strange to say that, but it is true!  I am hoping to continue to use blogging as a tool to document my insights and learning after the course ends.

Maree (4)


Hannon, P., Umble, K. E., Alexander, L., Francisco, D., Steckler, A., Tudor, G., & Upshaw, V. (2002). Gagne’s and Laurillard’s Models of Instruction Applied to Distance Education: A theoretically driven evaluation of an online curriculum in public health. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(2).