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


  1. Brian,

    your research is interesting and I hope that you will keep posting your ideas and progress. I would suggest that - given the span of the communities you are looking at - you also consider "culture" apart from the qualities mentioned above. Perhaps you can bring this down to "country" to reduce complexity. Your point about gender inequality should also apply to this issue.


    Erik van Bekkum


  2. Erik, thanks for the comment. The topic of culture is indeed interesting and it is worth my trying to include this in my analysis. However, I am not sure that country is necessarily a good predictor of culture, especially in a mobile Europe where people are living and working in countries different to their native one (me included).