Shea and Bidjerano (2009) conducted a survey of more than 2000 higher education students participating in a fully online learning network across 30 different institutions. They wanted to know whether teaching presence and social presence are linked to cognitive presence, as suggested by the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model (Garrison et al., 2000).
Using statistical analysis of the results (factor analysis, Structural Equation Modelling - SEM, and chi-square automatic interaction detection - CHAIAD analysis) they posit that their results show a correlation: ‘As predicted by the CoI model and conﬁrmed by the SEM analysis, both teaching and social presence play a major role in predicting online students’ ratings of cognitive presence.’ (Shea and Bidjerano, 2009, p.549). They argue that 70% of the variance in cognitive presence can be linked to the students’ reports of their instructors’ skills in fostering teaching and social presence, and that the latter (social presence) is dependent on the former (teaching presence).
The authors further posit that the social presence element associated with comfort in online discussion was the most significant item correlating with cognitive presence; low levels of comfort in online discussion were strongly correlated with low levels of cognitive presence. In other words, in order to achieve critical thinking (high cognitive presence) students need to feel comfortable with discussing online. In addition they report that cognitive presence is significantly influenced by the participation of the instructor and by his/her attempts to focus the discussion.
These research results suggest that instructors have a significant effect on the success of an online learning community and the ability of learners to experience epistemic engagement
.. it is crucial to assist learners to gain comfort and conﬁdence in the online discussion format in order to foster cognitive presence. Without this comfort, epistemic engagement in online learning suffers. A sensible approach would be to encourage students to reﬂect on their comfort levels with online discussion. If some students report lower levels of comfort, one strategy would be to promote reﬂection on why they feel this way and how they might overcome this discomfort, at the same time emphasizing that facility with online discussion appears essential to productive learning in this environment.
(Shea and Bidjerano, 2009, p.551)
(Shea and Bidjerano, 2009, p.551)
These results are similar to what I experienced during the Learning Event last year on web 2.0 tools and I wondered to what extent this is reflected in my results: in my final questionnaire is there a similar correlation between social presence and cognitive presence? In one of the survey questions, question 13b, I presented the respondents with a list of five activities and asked them to rate them in order of importance:
It is likely that those who put the last of the five options - socialising and making friends – first (i.e.1/5) in their list of choices felt comfortable with online discussion. Whereas we cannot argue the contrary for those who put it last (5/5), it would be interesting to see the relationship between these answers and cognitive presence.
Cognitive presence is associated with critical thinking (Garrison et al., 2001) and the final reflection that we held at the end of the LE was a specific activity aimed at encouraging the sharing of experience, reflection on practice and increasing understanding. One of the questions in the survey, question 31c, asked respondents whether or not they found the final reflection useful in this respect. The question was posed as a dichotomy of two equally valid responses and the respondent was asked to what extent they agreed with one or the other:
31c - What best describes your experience of the time allowed to apply ideas in your own teaching practice and the final reflection activities in the Learning Event?
I found it not very useful to share my experience with others in the final reflection
I found it really useful to share my experience with others in the final reflection
It is likely that those who chose statement F rather than statement E experienced higher levels of critical thinking. So how do the results of question 31c relate to those of 13b? The graph below illustrates (click on image to make it larger):
The graph shows that the majority of respondents who indicated that they mostly enjoyed socialising found it really useful to share their experience with others in the final reflection. Whereas those that put socialising with others at the bottom of their list of preferences were less certain of the value of the final reflection. These results neither prove nor disprove the arguments put forward by Shea and Bidjerano, but they do correlate with the idea that social presence supports cognitive presence.
In my research I am using my final questionnaire to guide my qualitative analysis and whereas I am not intending to use statistical analysis, I found the paper by Shea and Bidjerano interesting. One area where I would tend to disagree is with the emphasis on the involvement of the instructor. It is true that the instructor or tutor can greatly influence the performance of an online community through their design of the environment and the cognitive activities. However, when it comes to participation in the community, much of what is prescribed by Shea and Bidjerano as being instructor intervention can be achieved equally well by the learners themselves providing the teaching presence by leading a discussion, guiding others and threading the discussion in their contributions.
I finish with a final observation from Shea and Bidjerano:
Additionally, qualitative research that examines the nature of the discourse in online threaded discussions would shed light on the kinds of instructional conversations that lead to social and cognitive presence as well as those that result in lower levels of engagement and learning. It is only through such varied research approaches that we will gain further insight into the ways that online education can benefit from ongoing advances in technology, pedagogy, and the science of learning. (Shea and Bidjerano, 2009, p.552)
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
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
Shea, P. & Bidjerano, T. (2009) 'Community of inquiry as a theoretical framework to foster ‘‘epistemic engagement” and ‘‘cognitive presence” in online education'. Computers & Education, 52, pp.543-553