Unit 2: Building an effective learning community
Cognitive presence: The extent to which learners are able to construct and...
Interactive model of learning objectives: www.celt.iastate.edu/...
Be sure to refer to your institutional context for teaching and learning...
In the previous screens on 'Establishing a social presence' and 'Course netiquette and guidelines', we focused on creating a learning community through the development of a social presence. To ensure deep and meaningful learning, it is also crucial to establish a cognitive or 'thinking' presence. Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2001) define cognitive presence as 'the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry'.
In the previous sections on 'Establishing a social presence' and 'Course netiquette and guidelines', we focused on creating a learning community through the development of a social presence. To ensure deep and meaningful learning, it is also crucial to establish a cognitive or 'thinking' presence. Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2001) define cognitive presence as 'the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry'.
In order to establish this thinking presence it is important to design academic activities at the beginning of an online course which are aligned with clear, desired learning outcomes (see the 'Key terms' pod to the right), and which will have a significant impact on how students approach learning. These activities should focus on inquiry and the 'three Rs' of student engagement (Littky, 2004):
In order to establish this thinking presence it is important to design academic activities at the beginning of an online course which are aligned with clear, desired learning outcomes (consult the 'Key terms' pod at the end of the section), and which will have a significant impact on how students approach learning. These activities should focus on inquiry and the 'three Rs' of student engagement (Littky, 2004):
The following paragraphs will explain more about how to create learning activities that establish cognitive presence at the beginning of an online course.
Download a sample introductory survey. This sample survey is also...
Prior to the beginning of the course, send an email to students indicating that you will be using a learning management system (LMS)/virtual learning environment (VLE) and that they are required to log on to the site and complete an introductory survey. Advise them that the results will be shared with the class. The survey should focus on assessing the prior knowledge or experience students have with the course objectives and/or discovering why students are taking the course and what they hope to achieve through the experience. The teacher can then post the survey results to the LMS/VLE and ask students to discuss the results in small online discussion forum groups or in the first synchronous teaching session.
This activity helps to establish relevance for the students by establishing connections to their prior learning and knowledge. It also helps to develop relationships as students are able to identify with others who have similar learning goals for the course.
Have the students construct a home page in the course LMS/VLE where they post a digital image that represents them, a short biography, and their goals for the course.
'Icebreaker' activities and opening online discussions can then be designed, which capitalise on the information collected and shared in these student home pages.
Again, this activity helps to develop relevance and relationships by getting the students to identify their learning goals for the course and providing an opportunity to develop relationships through common interests and backgrounds.
"Greetings, everyone! Please feel free to call me 'Jenny'. I moved to Adelaide five years ago with my husband and am working towards my bachelor's degree in Special Education..."
The teacher can answer any questions still remaining during a synchronous teaching session or within the main discussion area of your learning management site. This activity is very useful for introducing the 3Rs at the beginning of an online course. By completing this activity, students can identify the relevance of the course and understand how peer relationships can help them collaboratively complete rigorous challenges.
As you may have noticed, some of these activities foster both social and cognitive presence by encouraging students to develop personal relationships and share their existing knowledge and learning goals for the future. Activities combining both these components are very effective in building a learning community.
How effective are activities in helping students achieve a deep and meaningful...
As indicated in the third example in the previous activity, a key method of establishing cognitive presence is to present clear desired learning outcomes, content objectives and performance expectations, which will help to ensure a productive educational experience. It is crucial that the course outline, assignments, and marking rubric be posted to the LMS/VLE well before the course begins. One of the great sources of confusion and frustration for students in an online course occurs when they are not clear about expectations. For this reason, it is extremely important to plan for the discussion and negotiation of the course outline and expectations at the beginning of the online course.
A tool or guide that helps to define the specific criteria for assessing a piece of work. It helps teachers to provide feedback and enables students to understand both assignment and assessment expectations and standards.
Having considered some activities you might set for your students to help encourage cognitive presence, now take a moment to think about what you as a teacher can do to help students reflect on their learning, and communicate it to others.
PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Being a successful online teacher
UNIT | 2 : Building an effective learning community
PAGE TITLE | Establishing a cognitive presence
Strategies to encourage students to question, reflect on and convey how they are constructing knowledge include:
The broad strategies identified in the activity above relate to the acts of facilitation and direction. You can find out more about these acts, and further ideas on establishing cognitive presence, in the units on 'Facilitating online learning' and 'Directing and leading an online course'.
Cognitive presence: The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning in online courses.
Deep versus surface approaches to learning: Deep learning occurs when learners think critically about new concepts and are able to connect them with existing knowledge. This helps to improve understanding, retention and, crucially, the ability of learners to apply their new knowledge. Surface learning involves the superficial memorisation of information as a series of unconnected facts. This kind of learning does not encourage understanding, long-term retention of information or application of knowledge.
Learning outcome: A written statement of what a student is expected to know, understand and demonstrate by the end of a given course of study.
Constructive alignment: An outcomes-based teaching and learning framework, proposed by Biggs and Tang (2007), in which teaching/learning activities and assessment tasks are systematically aligned to the intended learning outcomes.
Be sure to refer to your institutional context for teaching and learning standards and advice on writing learning outcomes.
Download a sample introductory survey.
This sample survey is also available in your Teaching Online portfolio.
How effective are activities in helping students achieve a deep and meaningful learning experience?
In the following interviews, online course students give us the benefit of their own experiences, and some tips for new online teachers.
Graduate Student, Learning Design and Technology, Purdue University
One of the activities that I enjoyed the most was a group wiki. So we were supposed to look for resources regarding just this specific learning theory, and then we were supposed to bring those resources together. I never met any of them. We were working all over America. Some of my classmates were in California. Another one was in, I think, New York. We were bringing all these resources. We were working on the same page. I think the class, we took, it was a course we were taking, Blackboard. So we wrote all these resources, we were sharing materials, we were sharing ideas, we were editing this one wiki, and everyone enjoyed the activity because we could easily see who was working or not. It was, like, different, because in a, what usually happens to me is that I'm the one who ends up doing most of the work but we all get the same grade. So that was not really cool, but when you work online it's hard to hide.
Student of Military History, Helpdesk Analyst on the SLN HelpDesk, SUNY Learning Network
A lot of the interactions that I had that I found very effective were the online discussions. Because you can't see everyone face-to-face, and because it is asynchronous, the ability to have a discussion and go back and forth is great because, again, you're bouncing ideas off each other but also learning from each other. That was one thing that I found pivotal, as opposed to reading through lectures and such, because a lot of the people that I dealt with in my classes were experts in different fields but it all kind of drew together, and that was a thing that I found was really crucial in the long run.
Arnold Gamboa: I think that instructors should take more of the moderator of interaction. When I say 'moderator of interaction', I mean that an instructor is not the centre of attention anymore. He's not the one who is telling everybody what they should do or how to do it, but he's more the one who allows and guides that interaction. The interaction with content and with each other in a class, in a course, in an online course, is really the centre of attention, because you need to read, you need to study, you need to interact with your peers. You cannot just wait until everyone is doing their work and then jump in. You need to be active, and instructors need to be the ones who are encouraging that interaction with both material and with peers.
Dr. Kathleen Cool
Former Online Graduate Student, Nova Southeastern University
It's very important for the instructor to, you know, constantly reach out and show him or herself as being available to the student, and be able to create that, you know, that traditional relationship between student and instructor even if the physical contact, the face-to-face relationship and the ability to relate one on one like that, is not possible.
Erik Finkell: It's critical. One of the things that I found the most was being online, a lot of students are apprehensive at first to communicate, and I found within the second week or so I myself branched out a lot to other people by sending private messages just to say, 'Hello, this is who I am.' The introductory period in the beginning of the semester really helps because I think it really does act as an icebreaker with the other students, and I find now I'm friends with a lot of them on Facebook, in addition to keeping up with them on email and different research projects and such. So it's definitely critical, that's for sure.
Arnold Gamboa: Number one is 'communicate'. You need to let students know how you are going to communicate. Are you going to use email? Are you going to use discussion boards? How are you going to communicate? And, try to do it as early as possible, and throughout the course of the course, so that they know what they need to do and how they are going to complete assignments and when they need to submit them. Communicate as much as possible and as early as possible.
The second tip I may give is 'set expectations'. Let students know what they are expected, they need to know how they need to submit assignments, where they need to submit them, if they're going to have, if they can submit assignments late or not, and when. For instance, provide [...] as early as you can, let the students know how they should work. It's very important.
Dr. Kathleen Cool: The number one tip, I would say, is definitely 'lead by example'. Definitely be responsive to the student, not to the extent that you're actually going to spoon feed the student, but to be respectful and to treat them the way that you would want to be treated, because a lot of times it can be an alienating place, that you don't really have that contact and that reassurance of having someone actually look at you and be able to return that gaze.
Erik Finkell: In the long run, what I would suggest always is, you know, understanding the plight of the student. Some of your students are going to be up late at night, possibly early in the morning. A lot of them, in my time I've found, work you know extensive amounts of jobs and things like that. The ability to have that communication, and direct communication, with the faculty member is crucial.
Also the technology aspect. I deal with a lot of faculty members that, let's say for biology, their expertise in their field, technology may not be a strong point. So what we've always done is worked with them on building up that strength, and then moving on to everything from images to videos to things like that that really kind of spark students, as opposed to the traditional lesson plan.