Reaction to Clarke and Bartholomew Article

The Community of Inquiry Forums CoI Research – Discussion Forum Reaction to Clarke and Bartholomew Article

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    Avatar of D. Randy Garrison
    D. Randy Garrison
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    Clarke, L. W., & Bartholomew, A. (2014). Digging beneath the surface: Analyzing the complexity of instructors’ participation in asynchronous discussion. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 18(3). Retrieved from:

    This is an important study as it takes us back to the genesis of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. At that time, the exploration of online learning was precipitated by a preoccupation with social presence. This research brings into perspective the role of social presence and the need to balance social presence (SP) with teaching presence (TP) and cognitive presence (CP). Clarke and Bartholomew take a practical look at the role of the instructor in asynchronous discussions in order to better understand how this impacts student learning.

    I will confine my reaction to the broad question related to understanding the instructor’s participation in the asynchronous discussions. To be clear, the authors had another goal – “to develop a user-friendly tool that can be used by other instructors to analyze their own participation in asynchronous discussions.” Notwithstanding the importance of the CoI coding tool, issues related to the coding tool is more theoretically challenging and, therefore, to avoid an unproductive distraction, this may be worth addressing in another response.

    For our purposes here, we focus on four of the questions of the study:
    • What is the instructor saying in these discussions?
    • How do instructors interact differently in these discussions?
    • How do the students perceive the instructor’s participation in these discussions?
    • How do the instructors perceive their roles in these discussions?

    The findings based on the coding of online transcripts found that the most common code was SP followed by TP and CP respectively. While this is of interest, caution must be exercised in interpreting frequency of responses and not necessarily the educative impact. As Akyol and Garrison (2008) found, frequencies of the presences will shift as a course develops. Of greater interest is how the students perceive the instructional postings. In this regard, the focus in this study was on the discrepancies among the instructors teaching essentially the same course and the student perceptions of how these participation patterns impacted their level of thinking. The results indicated that the instructors were not very good at directing the discussion and supporting CP. In essence the instructors’ bias was towards support and not challenging thinking.

    The important message in this article is that TP does not end with facilitation. The results show that if the discourse is to move to issues of CP (practical inquiry), then TP must exhibit a balance between facilitation and more directive input or engagement (direct instruction). The conclusion is that instructor participation in online discussions is a balancing act. The authors state that the results further “the idea that we need all three parts of the COI framework to be effective but how we employ this framework takes a careful and thoughtful balancing act” (discussion, last sentence). In this regard, I would argue the results support the position that an effective CoI must keep the academic goals at the forefront. We must challenge and probe thinking through facilitation and direction (TP) while maintaining SP through encouragement.

    In conclusion, if asynchronous online discussions are to be more than chat rooms, the nature of the instructional leadership is crucial – interaction is not enough (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005). Leadership (i.e., TP) in terms of achieving intended academic goals is crucial. The study of deep and meaningful learning suggests “that neither social presence alone nor the surface exchange of information can create the environment and climate for deep approaches to learning and meaningful educational exchanges” (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005, p. 144). This perspective is also supported by the research that shows SP to be important to create a climate for discourse but is essentially a mediating variable between TP and CP (Garrison, Cleveland-Innes & Fung, 2010; Shea & Bidjerano, 2009). The central message is the crucial role of TP if asynchronous discussions are to be more than a congenial chat room but, instead, an environment for collaborative inquiry that is directed toward intended academic goals.

    Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3), 3-22.
    Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.
    Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Fung, T. S. (2010). Exploring causal relations among teaching, cognitive and social presence: A holistic view of the community of inquiry framework. Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 31-36.
    Shea, P. & Bidjerano, T. (2009). Cognitive presence and online learner engagement: A cluster analysis of the community of inquiry framework. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 21, 199-217.

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