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

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Coding an online forum

I've been applying the Community of Inquiry (CoI) conceptual framework (Garrison et al, 2000) to the online discussion forums of the eTwinning Learning Event (LE), coding the dialogue in an example discussion thread according to cognitive presence (Garrison et al, 2001), teaching presence (Anderson et al, 2001) and social presence (Rouke et al, 1999). Figure 1 below shows an extract (click on the image to see an enlarged view), with the participants names blocked out:
Figure 1. Extract of the example discussion, stored and coded in Atlas.ti 

In the example I have used the message as the unit of analysis, coding each with what appears to be the most relevant classification from the three presences. If there is no evidence of a presence in a particular message, then I have coded it as Other. Figure 2 below shows the coding results from the example which contained 11 messages in a single thread:

Figure 2. Summary of the coding for the example discussion
 It has been a useful process and I have noted the following from this first trial:
  • Coding is a very subjective process and the results will depend heavily on my interpretations. This is not made easy by the fact that one only sees the explicit part of the learning process, that is surfaced by the learners and codified in their messages to the forum. I am sure that a lot remains tacit and unexpressed.
  • Reading Garrison et al's paper again (2001) helped me to see the messages not as individual, unconnected thoughts, but as part of an ongoing process. To be successful at coding you need to see what happens before and afterwards
  • The cognitive presence model of Garrison et al (2001) is premised on learning involving critical thinking. Nevertheless it reminds me rather of single-loop learning (Argyris and Schön, 1978) and in line with the thinking of Persico et al (2010), in their application of the CoI model, I added an additional code to capture meta-cognition. Meta-cognition is important for competence development.
  • Social presence is very difficult to assess and intuitively I feel that a message which starts with a 'Hello Carla' or 'Hi everyone' but makes no other reference to people or the group, does not exhibit sufficient social presence to warrant coding.
  • Teaching presence seems more straightforward, however one needs to be vigilant for mesages reflecting support and encouragement by peers, as these are also valid examples of teaching presence.
  • Atalas.ti certainly helps with the management of the process. It does not help with the coding, however, which remains an intellectual, time consuming activity.
  • I chose an example thread to code which is quite long (eleven messages) but yet representative of what we can see in the forums. The results of the coding (Figure 2) suggest that critical thinking took place, as there are three messages reflecting integration and resolution. In addition, two messages suggested metacognition, with the teachers reflecting on what they had learned as a result of the LE. This suggests that the LE did indeed lead to competence development.
So overall a positive first foray into the world of online discussion 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

Argyris, C. & Schön, D. A. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Addison-Wesley Reading, MA.

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

Persico, D., Pozzi, F. & Sarti, L. (2010) 'Monitoring collaborative activities in computer supported collaborative learning'. Distance Education, 31 (1), pp.5 - 22

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

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