Redesigning Teaching Presence in Order to Enhance Cognitive Presence: A Longitudinal Analysis

Redesigning Teaching Presence in Order to Enhance Cognitive Presence: A Longitudinal Analysis

Bart Rienties (University of Surrey, UK), Bas Giesbers (Maastricht University, The Netherlands), Dirk Tempelaar (Maastricht University, The Netherlands) and Simon Lygo-Baker (University of Surrey, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch007
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Recent findings from research into the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework indicate that teaching presence may encourage critical inquiry, integration of argumentation, and resolution of a task. Using quasi-experimental research, this chapter examines the impact of a redesign of a CMC environment, which by increased instructional design and organisation provided a more explicit scaffolding of the learning phases for learners. It was hypothesised that learners in a redesigned Optima environment would reach higher levels of cognitive presence due to clearer scaffolding. By comparing 4000 contributions to discourse using two content analyses schemes in a longitudinal perspective, the research results reveal that Optima participants contributed less to cognitive presence from the beginning of the course onwards, in particular to integration of argumentation. The main conclusion from this study is that getting the balance of teaching presence right to facilitate learners in the integration and resolution phase is a delicate and complex issue.
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In Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC), learners have to construct meaning and co-construct knowledge in a blended or entirely online setting. Several researchers (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000; Kirschner, Beers, Boshuizen, & Gijselaers, 2008; Schellens & Valcke, 2005) have found that CMC environments only provide a meaningful and worthwhile learning experience if participants actively contribute to discourse and co-construct knowledge collaboratively. Nonetheless, participation and persisting to contribute to discourse in CMC cannot be taken for granted (Kirschner, et al., 2008; Rienties, Tempelaar, Van den Bossche, Gijselaers, & Segers, 2009). For example, Hammond (2000) argues that a substantial threshold needs to be crossed before learners start to contribute to discussion forums. A mounting body of research has found that learners find it difficult to contribute to online discourse, in particular when integrating various points of argumentation and providing resolutions to a task (Garrison, 2007). That is, establishing a critical mass of interaction whereby learners move beyond the exploration phase of cognitive presence is troublesome (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Garrison, 2007; Schellens & Valcke, 2005).

The Community of Inquiry framework (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Garrison, 2007; Garrison, et al., 2000) provides a well-researched theoretical framework to understand how learners and teachers interact and learn together in CMC. In the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, a distinction is made between cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence. Cognitive presence is defined as “the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication.” (Garrison, et al., 2000, p. 89) In other words, the extent learners use and apply critical inquiry in discussions is the key feature of cognitive presence, as described more elaborately elsewhere in this book (Richardson, Sadaf, & Ertmer, 2012). Social presence is defined as the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as ‘‘real people.’’ A large body of research has found that for learners to critically engage with discourse in CMC settings, they need to create and establish a social learning space (Giesbers, Rienties, Gijselaers, Segers, & Tempelaar, 2009; Goldstein, Leppa, Brockhaus, Bliquez, & Porter, 2012; Rusman, Van Bruggen, Cörvers, Sloep, & Koper, 2009; Van den Bossche, Gijselaers, Segers, & Kirschner, 2006).

The third component of the Community of Inquiry framework, and the primary focus of this chapter, is teaching presence. Anderson, Rourke, Garrison and Archer (2001) distinguish three key roles teachers have that impact upon teaching presence in CMC environments, namely: 1) instructional design and organisation; 2) facilitating discourse; 3) and direct instruction. By designing, structuring, planning, establishing learning goals, process and interaction activities, establishing netiquette, learning outcomes, assessment and evaluation strategies before an online course starts (Anderson, et al., 2001; Biggs & Tang, 2007; Jang, Reeve, & Deci, 2010; Rienties et al., 2011), a teacher can create a powerful learning environment within which learners can learn and interact with their peers and a range of materials. Afterwards, a teacher can either facilitate discourse or provide direct instruction to encourage critical inquiry. According to Anderson et al. (2001, p. 7), “facilitating discourse during the course is critical to maintaining the interest, motivation and engagement of students in active learning”. Finally, direct instruction refers to teachers providing intellectual and scholarly leadership and sharing their specific domain-specific expertise with their students.

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