About my research

My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.

I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.
Keywords: online learning communities; community of inquiry; online collaboration; content analysis; social presence; social ties; teacher training

Friday, 5 November 2010

Coding a Community of Inquiry

I've been continuing my reading of papers concerning the coding of transcripts in online discussion forums, focusing for the moment on the Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison et al, 2000).

In a review of the use of the theoretical framework, Garrison (2007) raises a number of issues that I feel I should take into account when carrying out my coding of the Learning Event (LE):
  • Social presence is necessary but not sufficient for critical thinking and the successful development of a community in an online environment. 'social presence must move beyond simply establishing socio-emotional presence and personal relationships.  Cohesion requires intellectual focus (i.e., open and purposeful communication) and respect.' (2007, p.63). In analysing the social presence, we should look beyond the quantity of interactions to their quality in terms of establishing a climate of open communication, of collaboration and of community cohesion.
  • It is interesting to see how social communication changes over time as the participants become more confident and comfortable with the community. Hence, I should also code the date of the messages
  • Some studies have suggested that gender may effect the nature of communication, especially if there is a lack of a balance in the group (as in our LE), so I should also code the gender associated with the messages.
  • The impact of the instructor/teacher/tutor is emphasised in several studies, so I should be particularly attentive to interventions from the two tutors, to the description of the activities and to the instructions given in the forums. That said, I do not necessarily agree with the emphasis placed on the role of the tutor, but prefer to be more open to the teaching presence being reinforced through the messages of the participants themselves (initiating solutions, guiding their peers, etc)
  • There is suggestion that critical thinking may be encouraged by the tutor being quite transparent in linking the activities explicitly to the stages of critical thinking. There is even the suggestion that the tutors and the participants should self-code their messages as they post them. Whereas this might serve as an interesting research activity, I feel that it would be focusing the attention of the participants too much on the process that they are following rather than the end goal of learning and trying to achieve a useful, practical outcome. That said, it may be useful to reflect on this for the final activity (Reflection) due in three weeks' time.
  • The question is raised as to whether the coding scheme should remain at the category level or go down to individual indicators (see the table that I presented in an earlier posting, showing the various categories for the three presences and the possible indicators). I need to do more reading before deciding the level to adopt, however I like the idea of keeping it simple and practicable by remaining at the category level if this is feasible.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2000) 'Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education'. The Internet and Higher Education, 2 (2-3), pp.87-105

Garrison, D. (2007) 'Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues'. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11 (1), pp.61-72

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Analysing dialogue in an online forum

In an earlier posting I looked at coding schemes that could be useful for analysing the dialogue within the online forums of the Learning Event (LE) that I am following. I concluded that the choice of scheme would be both challenging and crucial to my research. I am now looking in more detail at possible schemes, starting with the one that is perhaps the most obvious , given that I am basing my work on the Community of Inquiry model put forward by Garrison et al (2000).

Garrison et al (2000, p.89)
This coding scheme aims to give a balanced view of an online community from the perspective of all three presences; cognitive, social and teaching. There would distinct advantages in my maintaining such an holistic view - we have introduced changes to the LE that could effect all three presences, I wish to keep an open mind about the impact of this action research and '... few  studies  explore  all  three  presences  and,  more  importantly,  interactions among  them' according to Swan et al (2008, p.2). I also wish to apply a relatively simple coding scheme as I am on my own and there is a lot of data to analyse. But perhaps more importantly, I am using a qualitative data approach meaning that I am looking out for meaningful examples in the narrative rather than trying to undertake a complete statistical analysis.

Garrison et al's coding scheme provides some examples of the indicators I should be looking for when I analyse the text. In related papers, that I have yet to study, they expand upon this so I should have sufficient guidance on how to apply their scheme effectively and consistently (Rouke et al, 1999; Garrison et al, 2001; Anderson et al, 2001;

Here is an extract of a discussion of the type I shall be analysing in the staff room:

'What do pupils need to learn to be prepared for the 21st century?'
Participant X:  
In e-learn magazine I found these skills: 
search and 'find' skills for finding the right information when it's needed
critical thinking skills to extract meaning and significance
creative thinking skills to generate new ideas
analytical skills for solving problems and making decisions
networking skills to identify and build relationships with others who are potential sources of knowledge and expertise, within and outside the organization
people skills to build trust and productive relationships that are mutually beneficial for information sharing
reason and argument to extract meaning and significance
the ability to validate data and the underlying assumptions on which information and knowledge is based

Participant Y:

I agree with it, X, but the problem with my students, at the moment, is : how to make them understand they need to think. It' s hard work. They are bombed and attracted by the surrounding media and in most cases their attention is only given to appearance. I think that our job as educators has become much more essential and aimed at teaching them they are the true and creative protagonists of their knowledge 

Tutor Z:

What an interesting thread, now we are really getting down to the interesting part

What is our role as educators in a learning world full of technology? I've heard different views: facilitators ('guide on the side') or orchestrators (taking a more active role, a bit like a conductor leading an orchestra). 

Participant Y:

I think as I've already affirmed in another thread that technology helps and facilitates a lot of processes but it's wrong to think it's a solution to the school problems. I have to admit that, as to my experience, in some cases and for some students it means wasting time and having fun. So, in my opinion, our task is that of trying to teach them the positive and negative effects of ICT involving them in projects which help them know better some of the tools they can use for didactic purpose. When aware of the opportunities, they are very skilful and able in producing material and in helping the teachers, too

Participant X:

I think we have to manage both roles: Too much control and you loose knowledge, because the pupils don't get the chance to explore (believe me: They find a lot of tools and information). Too much of the guide role and the students get lost, not having a frame to develop in...

Within this short extract, we find examples of Cognitive presence: information exchange, connecting and applying ideas; Social presence: emotions and self-disclosure, recognition; and Teaching presence: identifying agreement, injecting content from outside of the community, etc (and the latter not just from the tutor). This highlights the richness of the dialogue taking place and the challenge for coding.


Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. & Archer, W. (2001) 'Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context'. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2), pp.1-17

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2000) 'Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education'. The Internet and Higher Education, 2 (2-3), pp.87-105

Garrison, D., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001) 'Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education'. American Journal of Distance Education, 15 (1), pp.7-23

Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. & Archer, W. (1999) 'Assessing Social Presence in Asynchronous Text-based Computer Conferencing'. Journal of Distance Education, 14 (2), pp.50-71

Swan, K., Richardson, J., Ice, P., Garrison, D., Cleveland-Innes, M. & Arbaugh, J. (2008) 'Validating a measurement tool of presence in online communities of inquiry', eMentor, 2 (24), p.88. (ONLINE - http://www.e-mentor.edu.pl/_xml/wydania/24/543.pdf - accessed 06.03.2010)