What is the Community of Inquiry Framework?

Tracy Bruno
Tracy Bruno
Chief of Middle Schools; M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision
Teacher assisting a student working from a packet.

What is The Community of Inquiry Framework?

In the last seven months, teachers across the world have had to basically redesign instructional practices to meet the needs of learners in an online learning environment. The pandemic has  forced all educators to become first year teachers once again. How do we create an online community where students feel connected and safe enough to take risks and open their minds to new information? This is where the Community of Inquiry Framework (heretofore referred to as Col) comes into play. Col has three basic principles, or presences, that define the framework.

The first is the teaching presence. The teaching presence refers to the way the teacher constructs a course for the learners. This process looks very similar to the way a teacher builds a course under normal circumstances. Teachers create interactive activities, provide opportunities for facilitation, and define how they will carry out direct instruction in a course.

The second presence is the social presence. This presence transforms a bit in an online classroom. Teachers facilitate opportunities for students to get to know one another through icebreakers and team building exercises. This presence develops a cohesiveness among the online class where students are comfortable enough to come together and learn. Teachers also create opportunities to check in with students on a regular basis so no one feels disconnected from the content or the class.

The third presence is cognitive presence. Cognitive presence is the convergence of the first two presences so students can take the information they are expected to learn and work with others to construct knowledge.

What are the Benefits of the Community of Inquiry Framework?

Many of the tenets of the Community of Inquiry framework are the same tenets that make a traditional classroom work. Teachers design a course so pertinent information is relayed to students in a relatable and meaningful way. Lessons/activities are student-centered and not lecture in nature while still supplying a relevant amount of direct instruction. A classroom comes together as a learning community where students work together in relevant ways to construct their own learning while taking into account perspectives and experiences other students bring to the table.

Think about a lesson and the value of that lesson in two different ways. The topic is a history lesson on Civil Rights. In a very traditional setting, the teacher would create a presentation consisting of slides that cover basic information. Students would take notes over the presentation and would later be tested over the information.

Using Col, a teacher could create a visual hook for students. The hook could be a video of civil rights protests during the 1960s and 1970s in order to create a foundation for the lesson. The teacher could then break students into groups. Using Col, students have already spent time getting to know one another so backgrounds and experiences have already been established for all students in the class. Student groups are then given different topics within the Civil Rights movement such as voting rights, school segregation, Jim Crow laws, etc. Each group would also be asked to connect their topics to current day situations where they might be able to use their own experiences or interviews to connect what they are studying to current events.

During this process, the teacher periodically checks in with groups virtually to answer questions or encourage groups. Teachers would also create opportunities for members of the groups to reflect on their research frequently in order to gauge student understanding. Groups could then present their findings to the rest of the class in order to build knowledge that could eventually be used for a summative assessment. The Col is much more reflective of how 21st-century learning will benefit students in college and/or career.

How to Implement the Community of Inquiry Framework for Online Learning

You may be wondering: this all sounds great in theory, but what are some practical ways I can implement the three presences in my online classroom? Here are some examples:

Teaching Presence

  • Create a short video about yourself (the teacher) so your students can get to know you. We must show students how valuable it is that we get to know one another before the heavy lifting of learning takes place.
  • Use videos to recap the learning that has taken place that week.
  • What is “netiquette”? How should students act online? What is the proper way to respond to one another?
  • Go above and beyond to recognize students that contribute to classroom discussions.
  • Use a system that tracks the students you call on so no one can “hide” in class. Think about using various cooperative learning

Social Presence

  • Create team building opportunities for students to get to know each other so there is an established community when lessons start.
  • Establish virtual office hours. This allows teachers to check in with students and allows students to get individualized assistance on assignments.
  • Students can then create their own “get to know me” presentations.
  • Use team building activities early on in the course. Students will learn the value of collaboration.

Cognitive Presence

  • Provide opportunities for student choice in activities such as menu boards.
  • Create opportunities for students to lead discussions. Use activities like the Socratic Method so students can develop and trust their own voices in class. This would be an ideal situation for breakout rooms.
  • Include formative assessments that are not attached to a grade so students see the value of learning (knowledge building) v. working for a grade.
  • Present a variety of topics to the class where students have an opportunity to express their own experiences or beliefs. This encourages students to critically think about points of view different from their own.
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