Online Discussion Forum Design and Facilitation: Applying the Community of Inquiry Framework to Promote Presence

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session explores the use of a tool for discussion forum design and facilitation that is grounded in the Community of Inquiry framework.


Tom Mays is an Associate Professor of Commerce at Miami University where he teaches courses in business software and small business innovation. He also serves as the Miami University Regional E-Campus Research Fellows Coordinator. Professionally, Tom started T.A.M. Communications in 1997, less than two years after receiving his undergraduate degree in communication from Ohio University. His business initially focused on media production but quickly grew to include technical support services for corporate events, interactive media and web development, and online data collection and analytics. Tom has traveled the country as technical director and a lead computer and video engineer for several major corporations. Tom completed graduate degrees at Wright State University including an MBA and a Master of Science in Social and Applied Economics, and he earned a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Dayton where he studied social capital development in post-secondary education.

Extended Abstract

Creating and facilitating discussion forums that promote community and learning can pose a challenge to educators. This session begins with a brief literature review, then moves to the presentation of a tool, based on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, that can be used in discussion forum design. Attendees will be able to describe the CoI framework, discuss the importance of creating presence in online discussion forums, and describe the application of the presented tool in discussion forum design and facilitation.

Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) described the CoI as consisting of three forms of presence: teaching, social, and cognitive. Together, these three presences impact a students' learning experience. A discussion forum is one learning tool where all three forms of presences can be fostered. In a review of literature involving online discussion forums, deNoyelles, Zydney, and Chen (2014) outlined several practices for discussion forum design and facilitation organized by the three forms of presence in the CoI framework. To increase social presence, the authors discussed modelling behavior and requiring participation. To increase cognitive presence, the authors suggested focusing on discussion prompt design, specifically using problem-based or project-based forums instead of using a question and answer approach. For teaching presence, the authors stated that providing prompt feedback, encouraging peer facilitation, and using a set protocol were beneficial.

The discussion forum development tool presented in this session is based on the CoI framework's three forms of presence, and it provides a structured and visual way for course designers and online instructors to focus on enhancing presence and learning in discussion forums. The forum development tool is also grounded in the course development practices discussed by Richlin (2006), incorporating a focus on aligning outcomes, learning activities, and assessments. The presented approach begins with an analysis of how discussion forums fit within the broader context of the online course. Next, the discussion forum is designed based on the CoI framework's three forms of presence. Using a grid with four quadrants, the discussion outcomes and the forum type are stated. This includes stating if the forum is organized around a particular problem, project, debate topic, or other activity. The remaining three quadrants represent the three forms of presence.

Within the teaching presence quadrant, the designer states how teaching presence will be enhanced. This can include the medium and frequency of feedback and activity within the forum. The social presence quadrant includes information on if the discussion will be graded, the minimum requirements for participation, and if/how discourse will be modeled by the facilitator. Cognitive presence includes four elements: trigger, exploration, integration, and resolution. This last quadrant communicates how this cognitive continuum will be addressed in the discussion forum design.

After presentation of the tool, attendees will break into small groups to adapt a sample discussion topic to the framework. We will rejoin and discuss the results. Handouts and links to electronic resources will be provided. The purpose of this activity is to present a way to apply the CoI framework in the discussion forum design process using an easy to understand tool.

DeNoyelles, A., Zydney, J., and Chen, B. (2014). Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous discussions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1), 153-165.

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.

Richlin, L. (2006). Blueprint for learning constructing college courses to facilitate, assess, and document learning. Sterling, Va.: Stylus.