Creating a Community of Inquiry

As a current distribute learning teacher, I can personally speak to the challenges that teaching online presents. A Community of Inquiry (COI) allows one to address some of these challenges through the integration and facilitation of three presences: social presence (SP), teaching presence (TP), and cognitive presence (CP). If all three presences are successfully integrated and facilitated, “higher-order learning emerges in a community of inquiry” (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005, p. 137). To successfully create and maintain a COI, the course must be designed and facilitated with the three unique presence in mind. 

SP refers to the connections that students make with the course, the instructor, and other students. With a strong SP, students should feel as if they can present themselves honestly (Vaughan,Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013). The ideas given allow for the development and growth of SP as discussed by Vaughan et al. (2013) and Anderson (2018). 

  • Hold synchronous sessions. These sessions may be online using video conferencing tools, or in person if your context allows. 
  • Introduce yourself sharing a part of your personal life and include a video or image. Encourage students to do the same. 
  • Create an FAQ section, and update it as other students ask questions to share with the entire class. 

TP, as discussed by Anderson (2018) is the “central element around which other activities in a community of inquiry manoeuvre” (p. 47) and involves the design, facilitation, and instructions of the course. The following tips will allow teaching presence within a COI as discussed by Anderson (2018) and Bull (2013)

  • Utilize the Learning Management System (LMS) and use its tools to monitor students access, progress, and work habits. Use this knowledge to reach out to students who are absent, compare assessment results with student activity, and view if certain sections are being skipped.
  • Provide constructive feedback regularly. Allow the students to learn from their own experience offering guidance and encouragement.
  • Model effective problem solving through participating in discussions, and sharing your own learning when applicable.

CP is when students are able to push past surface interactions, and engage with the material critically. This requires proper facilitation (TP) and trust within the community (SP) (Vaughan et a., 2013). Tips given will allow for the support and development of CP as discussed by Vaughan et al. (2013).  

  • Ask reflective and critical questions of the students that have more than one answer.
  • Add questions or forums that encourage debate and critical discussion.
  • Have course instruction and expectations accessible and clear. As students will be working in a self paced environment, provide scaffolding to allow them to build towards inquiry.

The tips given here are only a small sample of ways in which one could create and maintain a COI. Since every classroom is unique, there are many other ways one could create a COI. What would you suggest in addition to what I have here? 


Anderson, T. (2018). How Communities of Inquiry Drive Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age. Contact North

Bull, B. (2013). Eight Roles of an Effective Online Teacher. Faculty Focus.

Garrison, D., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca University Press. Chapter 3: Facilitation (pp. 45-61).



7 thoughts on “Creating a Community of Inquiry”

  1. Hi Amanda –

    Great work on your infographic and explanation of the three presences and related strategies. I really liked how you included a question in your infographic that drew me in “What is a COI…and why do I want it?”. Using a question like this one and laying out the information the way you did struck me as very effective because it made the CoI come across as practical and approachable (if that makes sense!)…easier to imagine applying it to an instructional setting if you aren’t as familiar with it. I found it very inviting and so was more motivated to learn more by reading further. For your strategy #1 (synchronous sessions) under SP, I wonder if you have found that students actively participate in these sessions, if you do use them? What have you found to work well so students actively participate in them?


    1. Hi Mel, thank you for your comments on my infographic. I brainstormed for a little while how I wanted to present it so I appreciate your kind words. I have some synchronous sessions currently, but am actually ramping it up this year. I have only had 1 session of my new synchronous labs, but no students attended :(. Hopefully as this continues throughout the school year more students start attending. I do think that they will help a lot with SP and overall learning.

  2. Hi Amanda,
    I really like the simplicity of your infographic and the overview is given for what is a community of inquiry and why one who need it. These elements I think are pivotal to educators who are trying to create meaningful learning experiences for their students, whether in an online or blended setting. Also, what I really appreciated was your strategy under social presence to create a”FAQ ” sections, I think this element is very useful for students. Under social presence, where you stated to encourage students to update their profile, I have found this to be quite challenging during my early days of undergraduate studies when it was mandatory for my course. What strategies would you suggest to facilitators for students who may not want to update their profile etc. ?


    1. Hi Phyz, thank you for your comments. I added the FAQ after reading about it as being a strategies in our readings. I originally did not think it was a huge factor, but upon reflection thought about it more. One things my students often tell me is that they find it very isolating. I also have many similar questions as to me via email, that other students may have. By having a FAQ and then updating it as students ask new or different questions will help to show that they are not alone, and that other students may be thinking or worrying about the same thing ( maybe just not at the same time).

      For the profile picture, I do make it optional for our students. I always suggest they upload a picture of themselves, or I often say an animal or pet of theirs. Many do not want to share pictures of themselves, but are happy to put a picture of their dog, which still helps to share and build connections.
      Thanks for the comment,

  3. Hello Amanda,

    I like how your info-graphic had nice visuals that depicted the different sections and simplicity to it’s design and the right amount of content disseminated to showcase the different tips / strategies you would use for each of the Community of Inquiry presences; Social, Teaching and Cognitive. The alignment as well in context of your professional work environment was also evident.

    I wonder in respect to the comment you made in your written portion about leveraging the Learning Management System under the Teaching presence for dealing with absenteeism specifically. Here are some things I am curious about …

    1. When would you choose to reach out to the learners that you perceive as ‘absent’?
    2. How often would you choose to reach out to the learners that are perceived as ‘absent?’
    3. How are you reaching out to them – email?
    4. What are you saying to them, assuming the intent is to get them engaged and participating?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Dorothy, great questions. I will do my best to answer your questions but some will be pretty situation dependent. One of the nice things with teaching in my context is the flexibility it allows us to give our students. This also means that our routines have some flexibility.
      So I try to send out an announcement ( which is a forum that will get sent to email) at least once every two weeks to all students- which will include a generic ” if I have not heard from you recently please message me or submit an assignment” message. This also includes any important information – upcoming holidays/ pro d days/ upcoming synchronous sessions/ recent updates I have made that everyone should be made aware of.

      Due to my context, I normally give my students around 3 weeks of being absent before I send a message directly at them. We have a policy that we want them working every week, but that is not always happening. This is also dependent on the course. We have recently had some updates that help with our tracking so I am excited to see how that changes things this year.

      My communication happens either through Moodle’s quickmail (to students emails) or through just regular email. I often try to use Moodle’s quickmail as it allows me to have a long history of the courses, whereas my emails get emptied often due to size restrictions. I often rely on the latest announcement forum, as many of our younger students do not check email… yes they are online students who don’t like email. So I remind them to keep an eye on their latest announcements. If that doesn’t work, then depending on age, it will be calling, report cards, or getting i contact with home school counselors.

      Depending on the length of the absent and if we have had similar discussions my communication is different. However, the first time I am often trying to determine if there is an issue that I can help with, and I invite them to come into my drop in centre times to have a meeting and get started together. If I have already had discussion about being absent, then my tone will start to change and it will be based on learner expectations, reminding them that withdrawal will happen with lack of progress, and comparing it to skipping face to face courses.
      There are a few times a year, where I do not monitor absences due to other things happening. For example, September, January, early February and June. They are either the start or the end of the face to face classes and I understand that student will often have exams and put them first. The flexibility that online offers is great, but can easily be taken advantage.

      Hope this answered some of your questions,

  4. Thanks Amanda for the thorough reply to my questions. Truly appreciate. I do like how you approach learners that may be absent and your different messaging from generic and larger forums to specific and targeted. I also appreciate how you noted there is a bit of a policy it seems where you have where they should be logged in and participating each week.

    I am just curious to find out why you would maybe wait until 3 weeks of being absent before sending them a message directly?

    Finally, seems like you are excited about some updates to the tracking of learner log in, participation, time spent etc. … how do you think you’ll use that overall to your advantage as a facilitator?


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