Coaching for Cognitive Presence: A Model for Enhancing Online Discussions

Coaching for Cognitive Presence: A Model for Enhancing Online Discussions

David S. Stein (Ohio State University, USA) and Constance E. Wanstreet (Ohio State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch008
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This chapter presents a coaching approach to promote higher-order discussion skills in synchronous chats. Combining the Community of Inquiry framework with elements of the Co-Active Coaching Model has resulted in a guide for coaching interventions and discussion outcomes. The approach separates the discussion process coach’s role from that of the course instructor and complements the instructional work of the class. Learners have an opportunity to improve their performance in a voluntary advising relationship that promotes action, learning, and accountability.
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Greg: Do you have enough [to draft the post], Bobby?

Bobby: Yeah, enough for a headache.

Greg: I was trying to summarize what we had.

Bobby: I am going to print this mess out and see.

Greg: OK, good luck, Bobby!

Group discussion is at the heart of inquiry-based courses; and many online courses incorporate text-based chats to represent a more authentic, real-time form of discussion than asynchronous communication (Curtis, 2004; Davidson-Shivers, Muilenburg, & Tanner, 2001; Hrastinski, 2006). However, as the above chat exchange between discussion summarizer Greg and moderator Bobby illustrates, not all learners have the skills to conduct chats efficiently, integrate ideas, and come to a shared group understanding of the issue under discussion (Wanstreet & Stein, 2011a). Greg and Bobby’s exchange illustrates that group members are not sure what learning transpired during the chat. It appears that Bobby has enough content to draft a posting to the entire class, but it is not clear that the group came to a shared understanding or demonstrated other evidence of higher-order learning related to the discussion questions. This resulted, as Bobby noted, in enough content to give him a headache without the aid of summary statements to guide his writing. As instructors, we want to reduce the headaches and help the group avoid a messy discussion experience.

Evidence suggests that learners can be helped to improve their higher-order thinking skills online through coaching (Averweg, 2010; Stein, Wanstreet, Slagle, & Trinko, 2011). This chapter will show how we incorporated the Community of Inquiry framework into a coaching model and provided coaching to an inquiry-based group. It will describe what shortcomings we observed in cognitive presence discussion skills, what we did to promote discussion skill development that fosters higher levels of cognitive presence, and what evidence of improvement we saw in the cognitive presence exhibited by the participants.


Discussion In Communities Of Inquiry

Academic discussion is not a natural way of conversing for most online learners. While the skills of academic discussion are difficult to learn in a face-to-face setting, the nature of communicating in mediated environments makes discussion a skill that needs practice and guidance from experts in small-group conversations (Wood & Smith, 2005; Hill, 1991). Bridges (1990) posits four essential characteristics for conversation to be called a discussion: learners must interact with one another and direct their messages to the group, listening must be evident in that responses should reflect the content of previous messages and be related to the direction of the talk, the talk is sequential and increasingly builds more complex ideas, and the talk is purposefully directed toward an increased understanding of the issue. A true discussion must show evidence of assertions, use of evidence to support statements, interaction among the learners toward building an understanding of the issue, use of contradictions to test emerging ideas, and responses that invite participation (Bridges, 1990; Costa, 1990). A lack of knowledge about how to perform in a discussion context might impede the work and the learning of a team. Confusing interactions, conflict, and dysfunctional roles can hinder the quality of the learning experience (Bolton, 1999; Keyton, 1999).

True discussions are critical to the success of inquiry-based learning. In an inquiry-based course, it is the development of a reflective discussion that is under consideration. A reflective discussion is talk that promotes critical and creative thinking in which thoughts and feelings are exchanged among participants for the purpose of attaining a learning objective (Wilen, 1990). Critical thinking is at the heart of cognitive presence, one element of the Community of Inquiry framework, which provides guidance in designing and assessing inquiry-based discussions (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).

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