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

Sunday, 10 April 2011


I've been reading a paper by Akyol and Garrison (2011) on assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. Whereas Persico et al (2010) found that an additional code was needed to record metacognition in the critical thinking cycle underlying cognitive presence in the CoI model (Garrison, 1991, Garrison et al, 2001), Akyol and Garrison suggest that it is inherent in the model (see figure). They argue that metacognition is 'intended to provide the knowledge, awareness and strategies to critically assess the learning process' (Akyol and Garrison, 2011, p.4) and that, in an online community, it is a collaborative process where learners' internal and external processes are constantly being assessed. Moreover, metacognition is not only about reviewing  and changing one's own learning, but also that of others. As such, inherent in metacognition is the notion of learners assuming some responsibility for teaching presence.

Practical inquiry reflects an iterative process between the individual and the shared; between 'reflection and discourse, and analysis (insight) and synthesis (understanding)' (Akyol and Garrison, 2011, p.5-6). As such, learning involves sharing and justifying one's ideas in a group context.

Critical thinking/learning cycle (Garrison, 1991, p.293)
In order to assess metacognition, the authors of the paper propose indicators based upon three dimensions: knowledge of cognition - this is a relatively static state that reflects awareness of self and knowledge about metacognition; monitoring of cognition - the reflective part of learning, where one attempts to consider the bigger picture; and regulation of cognition - when one takes action to control and modify the learning process (Akyol and Garrison, 2011). Their results indicate that most of the messages in the online learning forums that they analysed demonstrated one of the three phases of metacognition, however there was predominantly a move from monitoring metacognition to regulating metacognition over time. As they rightly suggest, this results is perhaps to be expected and reflects a group that is successfully learning collaboratively.

What could be the implications be for my analysis of the learning in the eTwinning LE? Good question! So far I have suggested having a code for metacognition in addition to the four that reflect the stages of critical thinking proposed by Garrison (1991). As this could be construed as being redundant, I may decide instead to have two codes for each of the two stages of critical thinking related to the higher levels , that is integration and resolution, to distinguish between metacognition relating to the general use of web 2.0 tools and metacognition relating to their use in teaching practice. My feeling is that if I code the forums using just the single codes, I shall fail to see this important distinction - my perception, reading the forums, is that the teachers this time took their thinking to this extra level, thinking about the consequences for their teaching practice. And it would be important to show this if I am to illustrate that competence development took place.


Akyol, Z. & Garrison, D. R. (2011) 'Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry', The Internet and Higher Education, In Press, Accepted Manuscript. (ONLINE - http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.01.005 - accessed 24.03.2011)

Garrison, D. R. (1991) 'Critical thinking and adult education: a conceptual model for developing critical thinking in adult learners'. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 10 (4), pp.287 - 303

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


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  2. Hi Brian,
    first of all, thank you. I've been reading your blog during these months and I always find something useful for me! Action research turned out to be a great tool in order to explore what goes on in an online community. I understand your position now and I feel it's somehow similar to that of a teacher watching&interacting at the same time with a learners community. The only difference being the learners (teachers for you, students for me!).
    Now, I stumbled across this post about metacognition that I found extremely interesting. Assessing metacognition is a real challenge. And anyway,assessment is always a challenge for us teachers.
    My question is: do you think these theories could apply to a pupils' community as well? Can I try to "read" the development of metacognition in my pupils' blogs, or in the "pupils' corner" of a successful eTwinning project? Sometimes I think I can, but much depends on my interpretation...
    Or do you think this can apply only to adult learners (being more aware of the process they're part of)?
    Thank you again for sharing your readings and ideas!
    PS So sorry I missed your workshop in Budapest. Maybe you could post your presentation here?

  3. Hi Laura, it's great to see that someone is reading my postings :)

    Shame you missed the workshop, but you can find the presentation here: http://www.slideshare.net/holmebn/elearning-two-point-zero

    Your question concerning the metacognition of pupils online is an interesting one. I don't really have an answer, however intuitively I would say that achieving critical thinking is the objective of learning even at an early age. Whether you can see this from the dialogue online is hard to say - perhaps, though, not at the same level of sophistication.

    I am finding two principal challenges: firstly, coding and interpreting what I see is very subjective, as you rightly suggest; and secondly, what we see online is but the tip of the iceberg as a lot of learning is taking place outside of the online tools or is simply not expressed.

    It may be fair to say that if you see evidence of metacognition in an online discussion or blog then this is confirmation that it is taking place. But absence of evidence does not mean it is not taking place (as my supervisor Julie-Ann reminded me).

    Hoping this helps and do keep your comments coming :)