Engineering MOOCs: Communities of Inquiry?

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

We will explore results from the administration of the Community of Inquiry instrument in three engineering MOOCs provided by Georgia Tech. Social Presence was identified less often than either Teaching or Cognitive Presence. How can MOOCs adapt to provide this key factor in course success?


Rob Kadel is Assistant Director for Research in Education Innovation with the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. His research spans nearly 20 years, including evaluating the effectiveness of learning technologies at both the K-12 and higher ed. levels. Rob brings to C21U research foci in online pedagogy and effective practices, alternative learning spaces, learning analytics, and tools/strategies to help close the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students. He has presented both nationally and internationally on cutting-edge learning technologies and managing grants, programs, and research in their use. Rob held faculty positions at Penn State University and Johns Hopkins University prior to running his own educational technology research consulting firm for seven years. He continues to teach online courses in the sociology of education, criminology, and juvenile delinquency for the University of Colorado Denver. Rob earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Emory University in 1998.

Extended Abstract

Researchers at Georgia Tech administered the Community of Inquiry instrument (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000) in three engineering MOOCs in late 2016. The Community of Inquiry consists of three factors: Teaching Presence, Social Presence, and Cognitive Presence. Teaching Presence and Cognitive Presence were both rated fairly highly in these courses (averages of about 4 on a scale from 1 to 5 for each of 25 individual items). However, the average response to nine items measuring Social Presence was approximately 3.6. This stands to reason, because outside of discussion forums largely manned by other learners, there is not much opportunity to socialize in these MOOCs.

Additionally, Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer (2001) identified three sub-factors of Teaching Presence: Design and Organization, Facilitating Discourse, and Director Instruction. In a factor analysis of the survey data, Direct Instruction was noticeably missing in the results. However, it can be argued that in a MOOC, there is no direct instruction consistent with Anderson et al.’s (2001) description. There, the authors note that direct instruction relies upon the subject matter expert by “interjecting comments, referring students to information resources, and organizing activities that allow the students to construct the content in their own minds and personal contexts” (p.9). In a MOOC, knowledge is transferred through video instruction, but the active focusing, summarizing, diagnosing of misconceptions, etc. (p.10) are absent.

Despite the seemingly dry nature of these statistical analyses, this lively and engaging presentation will explore ideas relevant both to researchers and practitioners. We consider ways that online exercises can be adapted for MOOCs to engage learners in more social ways. For example, can the incorporation of “improv”-type games in discussion forums be used to provide learners with the types of experiences they would have in more intimate settings? Can social forums, such as virtual cafés, be used to provide learners with those experiences they would have at the start and end of on-ground class meetings in traditional settings? Further, what strategies can be used to increase teaching presence, particularly direct instruction? We consider passive strategies, such as videos that humanize the instructor, as well as active strategies such as community teaching assistants and the instructor providing answers to and analyses of common issues raised in the discussion forums?

The goal for each of these strategies is to increase retention in MOOCs and thereby contribute to learner success.

We are exploring these kinds of interventions at Georgia Tech and will share in a discussion of their challenges and benefits with conference participants. Attendees will be encouraged to share their own stories in the use of the Community of Inquiry framework and in enhancing social and teaching presence in online courses.