Through the Looking Glass: Emerging Technologies and the Community of Inquiry Framework

Through the Looking Glass: Emerging Technologies and the Community of Inquiry Framework

Phil Ice (American Public University System, USA) and Melissa Burgess (American Public University System, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch022
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This chapter explores how emerging technologies may challenge the CoI framework to evolve and account for new types of learner and instructor interactions. An exploration of processes inherent within the three presences is contextualized against the architecture of learning management systems, with attention given to those elements that are most likely to be impacted moving forward. As examples, innovations in digital publishing, multi-screen, multi-user virtual environments, on-demand education, adaptive learning environments and analytics are discussed, with a focus on how advancements in these areas may require rethinking and realignment of some aspects of the CoI framework.
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“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In many ways Alice’s exchange with the Cheshire Cat is reflective of the current state of online learning. Within the last few years technological advancements have been occurring at an unprecedented pace. Until now, education has largely immunized itself from these changes, preferring the comfort of rigid, outdated modes of delivery. However, the proliferation and adoption of these technologies have become so ubiquitous in other segments of society that the education sector has little choice but to modernize. While implementing such changes will cause major disruptions to institutional infrastructure, there will also be significant change to the pedagogical structures which have evolved around infrastructures.

Prior to 1993, communication on the world wide web was largely relegated to bulletin board and file transfer services. In that year, Mosaic, the first graphic web browser was introduced, followed by Netscape and Microsoft IE by the end of 1995. While leveraging html to create a unified environment for viewing text and graphics, designing basic content (let alone entire courses) remained a challenge, especially in the education sector where few expert developers existed. In response, various learning management systems (LMS) began to appear in the mid 1990’s. Though platform technology differs from LMS to LMS (architecture and component availability), the primary purpose of these products is to allow authors to rapidly create online course content, develop learning activities, post resources, establish areas for discussion, provide mechanisms for submission of work products, establish a centralized grading mechanism, and facilitate communication between instructors and students.

While ancillary materials may be referenced or ported into the LMS, these highly compartmentalized systems have been the primary vehicle for delivering courses and where related scholarly communities have emerged over the last 15 years. As a result, the vast majority of pedagogical strategies and best practices for online learning have been developed against the LMS framework.

Based upon a constructivist collaborative approach to learning, the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI) has been developed and, with a few exceptions, researched within the context of the LMS. This backdrop calls to question which portions of CoI research may be platform dependent and which portions may be generalized across all contemporary and emerging learning environments. In addition, critical questions need to be asked about how emerging technologies may alter the nature of virtual communities and how these changes should be conceptualized from a research paradigm.

This chapter begins with an overview of how the three CoI presences can be viewed in terms of process architectures related to the structural elements of the LMS. Here it is important to note that the processes described and analogies drawn are not meant to be all inclusive, rather the narrative is intended to depict a high level view of workflows associated with LMS based course construction and their relationship to the process model described by the CoI. Following is a discussion of how emerging trends in digital publishing, multi-screen and applications, virtual environments, on-demand environments, adaptive learning environments, and analytics may impact one or more of the presences.


Contextualizing The Emergence Of The Coi Framework Against The Lms Delivery Paradigm

When deconstructed against the LMS architecture, associations between the three presences and building blocks become readily apparent. While there is certainly some amount of variation between the structure and naming of components across LMS’s, it is not the intention of this section to map out how any one LMS provides the ability to develop and deliver courses that are optimally aligned with the CoI. Rather, the goal is to demonstrate that as a set of tools, LMS’s have provided a means for easily facilitating Communities of Inquiry.

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