The Community of Inquiry Framework: Future Practical Directions - Shared Metacognition

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session Best in Track

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This research study investigated how students were learning from each other (shared metacognition) in a blended course. Practical results will be discussed for redesigning courses to help students develop their capacity for shared metacognition using the community of inquiry framework and digital technologies.

Extended Abstract

Audience Engagement

This education session will be a research study presentation that will engage participants through ‘think-pair-share’ activities and a Google Doc worksheet.  The purpose of the worksheet is for participants to share learning activities and strategies that help students develop their capacity for shared metacognition (ability to learn from each other).


There has been an increased focus on the topic of student engagement in higher education in light of rising tuition costs and concerns about student success and retention rates (Regier, 2014). At the core of meaningful student engagement is the concept of metacognition, which is simply “thinking about one’s thinking” (Chick, 2013, n.p.). Recently, the focus in higher education has shifted from an individualistic to a more collaborative approach to learning (Kromydas, 2017). Consistent with this, Garrison and Akyol (2015a) have developed a shared metacognition construct (students’ ability to learn from each other), which is based on the Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).


This research study investigated how a blended course could be designed, facilitated, and directed to help students develop their capacity for shared metacognition.


A mixed methods research approach guided the collection and analysis of the study data. Three sections of the educational technology course were offered in the fall 2019 semester and the co-investigator invited the third year teacher candidates to participate in this research study. There were a total of eighty students enrolled in the course, seventy female (88%) and ten male (12%). Ninety percent of the students (n=72) agreed to participate in the study, which received Institutional Research Ethics Board (HREB) approval.

In terms of quantitative methods, the validated Shared MC and CoI surveys were both utilized in an online format using Google Forms.  The shared metacognition survey (n=72) was deployed at the end of October, just before the teacher candidates began their five week practicum placements. The CoI survey was administered at the end of the fall 209 semester in order to observe how the teacher candidates had integrated their course experiences with their practicum placements (n=56). Descriptive statistics (frequencies, means, and standard deviations) were calculated for individual survey items using Google Spreadsheets.

With regards to qualitative methods, at the end of the fall 2019 semester the teacher candidates created a final blog posting where they reflected on how they contributed to the learning of others in the course as well as what they had learned from their peers. This data was copied and pasted into a Google Document and the researchers used a constant comparative approach when reviewing the blog posts  in order to identify patterns, themes, and categories of analysis that “emerged out of the data rather than being imposed on them prior to data collection and analysis" (Patton, 1990, p. 390).


The study findings about shared metacognition are reported using the three sub-elements or categories of the CoI’s sphere of teaching presence – design, facilitation, and direction. 


Course design is a planning process that includes consideration of many content and process issues. The focus of the planning process for this research study was specifically on the monitoring and managing of shared metacognition. 

At the beginning of the semester, the course instructor had the students create an initial blog posting where they described and shared their personal learning goals for the course. At the end of the semester, the students were required to demonstrate and describe how they had achieved these learning goals by presenting their professional learning plan or ePortfolio.

The study participants indicated these activities were useful on a personal level but several commented on the importance of the teacher “going over all assignments at the beginning of the semester to allow students to ask questions and also give us time to wrap our heads around the key concepts and goals of the course” (Shared MC survey participant 25). 


Facilitation is the central activity in an educational community of inquiry for developing shared metacognition through the interactions among students and the teacher. Facilitative actions on the part of both the students and the teacher, create the climate, support discourse, and monitor learning.

Students selected critical friends at the beginning of the semester.  The role of the critical friend was to provide constructive feedback and support for all of the course assignments.  In addition, each of the course assignments had a group component where students were required to work together to solve problems and test solutions related to teaching with technologies.

The majority of research participants indicated that these collaborative activities helped them get to know the other students in course, which gave them a sense of belonging and allowed them to feel comfortable interacting with their peers. In turn, this sense of a safe learning environment allowed the students to be more willing to listen to the comments of others as well as considering the feedback of their peers. One participant emphasized that not only did she listen to others in the course “I got to learn from others. I was also able to get new ideas and I was also able to share my ideas to others in my group” (Student blog 27).

Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is about ensuring the students achieve the intended learning outcomes of a course or program. It is an essential ingredient in any formal educational experience in order to help students learn how to collaboratively manage and take responsibility for their learning (shared metacognition).

In terms of shared metacognition, some study participants indicated that they found it difficult to challenge their peers’ strategies and perspectives. With regards to strategies, the participants commented specifically on work ethic and quality of work.  Several of the students quoted the Pareto principle (Azad, 2013) where 20% of the group does 80% of the work “usually one or two people ended up doing the work while other group members didn’t do anything” (Student blog 11). And, in terms of quality, one participant commented that “being able to trust others and their level of work is something I found difficult. I always want to try to strive for perfection (even when unattainable) so if I feel others are not as invested or do not put in as much work/effort it makes me upset” (Student blog 52).

Finally, students are often unwilling to disagree or challenge each other in a higher education course, especially in online discussion forums as they do not want to offend or hurt anyone’s  feelings, a sense of “pathological politeness” (Garrison, 2017. p.53).  From the CoI survey results and the final blog postings,  it was encouraging to see that by working in groups over the semester the study participants became more comfortable with providing direct instruction to each other.


Based on the findings from this study a series of recommendations are made for how digital technology applications can be used to design, facilitate, and direct a course in higher education in order to help students develop their capacity for shared metacognition.


In terms of student engagement, Littky and Grabelle (2004) emphasize the importance of establishing relevance at the beginning of a course (1st R of engagement).  They indicate that students should have a sense of curiosity and connectedness with the learning outcomes for the course. This can be achieved by having students complete an online needs assessment survey,  share their relevant experiences in an online discussion forum, and create their own learning goals for the course in a blog.


The second R of engagement that Littky and Grabelle (2004) advocate for is relationships. Creating a sense of community and collaboration are key for helping students develop their capacity for shared metacognition. Unfortunately, studies indicate that many students in higher education have little formal experience working collaboratively in groups (Chang & Brickman, 2018). Thus, the teacher must model the type of engagement behaviours they expect from the students and provide opportunities for students to learn how to work successfully in groups.

For example, collaborative activities can be designed that allow students to experience all five stages of Tuckman’s (1965) group development model (e.g., forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning). In addition, the participants of this study indicated that they had limited experience with the peer review process. The University of California at Los Angeles (2019) has developed a Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) Tool. This web-based application allows students to learn how to provide constructive feedback to their peers.

Direct Instruction 

Littky and Grabelle’s (2004) third R of engagement is rigour. In a higher education course, this can involve students completing a challenging problem, task or assignment that forces them to confront different perspectives and new ways of thinking. This process involves the teacher ‘nudging’ the students forward in their academic studies (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). For example, students are often content to share and discuss ideas with each other but require a ‘gentle nudge’ to integrate and apply those ideas in course assignments and everyday life.

One recommendation for direct instruction is the explicit use of Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2001) Practical Inquiry (PI) Model for course assignments. Another recommendation involves the use of learning contracts for group work. This can be a useful tool for helping students to plan and complete collaborative inquiry-based project work


The historical ideal of education has been to learn in collaborative communities of inquiry, which can foster the growth and development of shared metacognition (Lipman, 1991). This research study has demonstrated the potential of using the community of Inquiry framework (Garrison, 2017) to recapture this collaborative vision for higher education. The key is to use digital technology applications to redesign our courses for active and collaborative learning experiences that enable students to take responsibility for their learning and collaboratively validate their understanding through discourse and debate with their peers.