Thank you Sylvia for the introduction. To open the discussion I would like to attempt a partial summary of my critique of the community of inquiry framework (CoI). Sarah will follow to provide further thoughts. The full article is at http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/755/1333. For those not familiar with CoI, I provide a summary description of the framework in my article. You should also refer to the original article -
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), 87−105.
My main arguments are three-fold. First, online discussion must be understood as foremost a communication phenomenon. Human communication is almost always multi-functional. In online discussions, we often combine instruction, intellectual exchange, and social interaction in a single utterance (as I am doing right now). Because of the multi-functionality of communication the three main aspects of CoI — cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence — are intertwined. The distinction of these presences is useful for analyzing a conference after the fact, but they do not necessarily provide a participant the sense of what s/he should do in-situ when a conversation is in the making. This brings me to my next argument.
Online presence must be constructed through actual communicative acts that perform various social, pedagogical, and cognitive functions. By communicative acts I specifically refer to what Andrew Feenberg (1989) calls moderating functions. To create effective online presence, for example, a teacher must perform functions such as setting the agenda, recognition, prompting, and weaving. Performance of these communicative functions creates the context and atmosphere for discussion to continue. Desired states of affairs such as “open communication” and “group cohesion,” identified as two categories under CoI’s social presence, may or may not apply in any given situation. Participants must actively construct them via communicative acts. Online presence is an effect of what people do, i.e., their performance of communicative functions. By clarifying the nature of presence online, I wish to draw our attention to what leads to the presence of a participant or a thought or feeling.
The CoI model separates out the social dimension of communication. I argue that the social interaction between participants is essential to all communication, including intellectual exchange. Intense intellectual discussion depends on and produces social interaction no less than casual talk. Rather than attempting to isolate what is social as defined in CoI, I argue that the true sociality of online forums lies in the dynamics of discussion itself. Back and forth of discussion constitute what Gadamer (2004) calls the to-and-fro movement of the dialogue game. The game provides the intrinsic motives that draw participants into this movement and provoke their next move. The matrix of social interaction, itself extended in the course of discussion, provides the necessary context for continued engagement.
I invite you to share your reaction to these thoughts. If you find any of what I have said confusing, please say so, and feel free to ask any questions.
Feenberg, A. (1989) The written world. In R. Mason & A. Kaye (Eds.), Mindweave: communication, computers, and distance education (pp. 22-39). Oxford: Pergamon.
Gadamer, H.G. (2004). Truth and method (2nd ed). London ; New York : Continuum.