The Case for the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Influencing Student Retention

The Case for the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Influencing Student Retention

Katrina A. Meyer (University of Memphis, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch015
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This chapter reviews the research on the CoI framework and student retention and relates the CoI framework to existing retention theories developed for the pre-Internet world and for online learning. The ability of the CoI framework to improve student retention is discussed as well as the relative impact the framework may have on retention, given other influences on retention as captured by several retention theories. A theoretical link between the CoI framework and retention is proposed, through the intermediary of student learning.
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The Retention Problem

The data on retention of online programs is, however, neither clear nor consistent. Jenkins (2011), citing “countless studies,” claimed success rates in online courses “of only 50 percent – as opposed to 70-to-75 percent for comparable face-to-face classes” (Jenkins, 2011, ¶3). Unfortunately, such claims as this one are common in the popular literature, and show neither online learning nor face-to-face courses in a particularly good light and may be inaccurate as well. A recent email exchange on a listserv devoted to distance and online learning about online retention rates elicited more detailed responses from representatives of several institutions. The California Community Colleges and Broward College had online retention rates that were 7% below face-to-face retention rates and Montgomery College had a retention rate for online and blended courses that was 4% lower than for face-to-face courses. Both Athabasca University and the North Dakota University System found that 85% of undergraduate students finished their online courses. On the other hand, the University of Memphis has experienced the opposite phenomenon: Online courses have pass rates above, and failure and withdrawal rates below, students in on-campus courses. These figures present a situation where retention data for online courses is not as bad as some may think, and may be improving as experience with designing and delivering online courses is gained.

The CoI Framework

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework posits three “presences” – social, teaching, and cognitive – which, when combined, create an effective learning community in the online course. Social presence focuses on the ability of students to project their personalities during course discussions, communicate clearly and well, create trust among course participants, and develop interpersonal relationships with others in the course. Teaching presence stresses the design, facilitation, and direction of the course’s activities, projects, and/or discussion, be it by the instructor or others. Cognitive presence focuses on the process of practical reflection, including the development or construction of meaning through a four-stage process (triggering question, exploration, integration, and resolution). When the three presences overlap, students can benefit from a cohesive educational experience that creates community and engenders learning.


The Evidence For Coi’S Influence On Student Retention


This section tackles two issues. First, what is the evidence that the CoI impacts student retention, and second, what processes might explain this impact? While the CoI framework was not developed to tackle the problem of student retention, researchers immediately investigated whether online coursework purposefully designed to create the behaviors within each of the three presences encouraged learning to occur. As this research developed further, attention began to be paid to the framework’s effect on student retention. Research on the CoI framework has found both separate influences for each presence as well as combinations of presences on retention.

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