The focus of this chapter is on a framework that has drawn considerable interest in creating collaborative communities of inquiry in online learning environments (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). The goal is to provide an overview and update of the Community of Inquiry Framework with a particular focus on social, cognitive and teaching presence that constitute the framework. Creating and sustaining a community of inquiry requires an understanding of the progressive or developmental nature of each of the presences and how they interact. This chapter will explore what constitutes each of the presences and implications for practice.
A community of inquiry is not a new perspective in higher education. It builds upon existing collaborative-constructivist educational assumptions that have historically been identified with higher education. Moreover, many of the constructs and rationale evolved from the research literature in adult and higher education. At the same time, however, the assumptions of this framework foreshadow a new era of distance education. It reflects much of the work being done in the area of online learning. The concept of a community of inquiry is being used extensively to understand and guide the design and delivery of online learning experiences.
A community of inquiry goes beyond accessing information and focuses on the elements of an educational experience that facilitate the creation of communities of learners actively and collaboratively engaged in exploring, creating meaning, and confirming understanding (i.e., inquiry). Constructing knowledge through discourse and shared understanding requires more than disseminating information either through a study package or lecturing. It requires a commitment to and participation in a community of learners that will support critical reflection and collaborative engagement. This deep and meaningful approach to learning is core to a community of inquiry and is becoming a practical necessity in an era where the creation of relevant and timely knowledge is of paramount importance.
The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework recognizes the importance of the environment in shaping the educational experience. A CoI is a collaborative environment founded upon open but purposeful communication. The essential elements in this process are social, cognitive and teaching presence. It is in the overlap of the three presences where the essence of a community of inquiry exists and meaningful collaboration occurs. The elements of the CoI framework can be found in Figure 1.