Approach to Critical Inquiry: Community of Inquiry and Discord

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This blog post was written in collaboration by Christopher Rowe, Eric Yu, Jean-Pierre Joubert, and Vanessa Tran

In exploring the effectiveness of using Discord as an educational teaching tool, our team also investigated on how to create a deep and meaningful learning environment using Community of Inquiry (CoI). A framework that includes Teaching, Social, and Cognitive presence, developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (1999).

Learning Experience and Approach to Critical Inquiry

Our approach to our critical inquiry began with each team member selecting an element of CoI to specialize in and examine in detail. We found a significant body of research articles supporting CoI and a few with dissenting arguments. Having said that, there were fewer blog posts and articles about using Discord for educational purposes. However, we found several new YouTube videos of educators using Discord as a teaching tool as well as facilitating an online class in 2020 and 2021. Despite some success finding examples of Discord’s use for education, we were unable to find an active learning event in which our team could participate. Instead, we have settled on a conference paper by Konstantinou and Epps (2017) describing their use of Discord in a first-year electrical engineering course. Used in conjunction with a video on using Discord for distance learning/group work (Geoinformatics, 2020), we are able to review not only Discord’s use, but also data regarding outcomes and student experiences. We are currently researching arguments for and against using social media for education to present a more critical review.

Background Reading and Lessons Learned

For our background reading, we began by exploring CoI in great detail. The foundational structure of CoI includes cognitive, teaching, and social presence. According to Anderson et al. (1999), cognitive presence is a vital element of critical thinking and deep, meaningful learning. It is a process to create a sense of puzzlement for the learners, exchange information, allowing them to connect with the ideas, and then apply the new ideas. Additionally, when the objective is higher-order cognitive learning, text-based communication is preferred. Next, as described by Garrison et al. (2000), teaching presence consists of two main functions: educational design and the facilitation of discourse. It is the role of the educator in a COI to design and build the environment in which discourse can take place, and then also moderate and encourage positive and effective communications leading to practical inquiry. Finally, Garrison (2009) described social presence within a CoI as being required to identify with, develop relationships within, and purposefully communicate with a particular community. Interestingly, group identification within the community, rather than strong personal bonds between individuals, appears to be of more importance in ensuring a cohesive and collaborative group. With that in mind, instructors should purposefully create productive, efficient, and meaningful discussions with students. Interaction should go beyond the traditional question-and-answer structure, but use strategies of problem-based, project-based, and debate prompts to help increase the interaction to higher levels pertaining to the three presences (deNoyelles et al., 2014). 

Questions to Pursue

While we have thus far been encouraged by the available tools and positive responses to the use of Discord in an educational setting, as presented by Epps and Konstantinou (2017), there are still some subjects to pursue in order to have a deep understanding of the impact of its application. Despite the assertion in their privacy policy that they are “not in the business of selling your information” (Discord, 2020), they maintain the right to share user data with a host of third-party organizations. Accessibility is also a concern, due to possible geographical restrictions for international users, and a lack of tech support provided by educational institutions. Additionally, as Discord would be supplementary to an officially supported LMS, its use in a course could not be mandatory, leading to some students being excluded from the discourse. Finally, how student identity is either supported or restricted on this platform could impact a student’s social presence and engagement in a course. Further research on these topics is required. 

Overall, as we investigate and examine each element of CoI in detail and gaining greater knowledge of how Discord can be utilized as a digital teaching tool to facilitate casual interactions and create a deep and meaningful learning community. Our team is now ready to outline our approach to conducting a critical inquiry into CoI and Discord. We invite you to comment and let us know which of the five challenges for Discord you resonate with. 


Anderson, T., Archer, W., & Garrison, D. R. (1999). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87–105. 

deNoyelles, A., Zydney, J. M., & Chen, B. (2014). Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1). et al_2014_Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous.pdf

Discord. (2020). Discord privacy policy. 

Konstantinou, G., & Epps, J. (2017). Facilitating online casual interactions and creating a community of learning in a first-year electrical engineering course. 2017 IEEE 6th International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), 128–133. 

Garrison, D. R. (2009). Communities of Inquiry in Online Learning. In Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Second Edition (pp. 352–355). IGI Global. 

Garrison, 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), 87–105. 

Geoinformatics. (2020, March 25). Using Discord for distance learning/group work. [Video]. YouTube.


3 thoughts on “Approach to Critical Inquiry: Community of Inquiry and Discord”

  1. Great topic!

    As social media use in education continues to grow in popularity, it is important that we use its affordances to best fit learners’ needs. As a teacher, I have used social media with my students in a variety of ways. However, I continue to have many questions. What is the best way to incorporate social media into a course whether online, blended, or face-to-face? Should the teacher be a member of the group? As a member, they can moderate content, ensuring course information is accurate and content is safe and appropriate. (This is especially important if the group was formed by the teacher or school.) If the teacher is not a member, however, students may feel more comfortable opening up in the group which may result in a greater sense of community.

    As more courses and programs move fully online (many in a very short time span due to COVID), it is more important than ever to help students develop a positive social presence. To help students feel socially connected with their teachers and classmates, we need to “synthesize what we know from social cognition theory into a set of design guidelines for facilitating the development of group social structure in online learning environments” (Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2009, p. 292). Slagter van Tryon and Bishop (2009) use the term “e-mmediacy” (p. 292) to describe learners’ feelings of social connectedness with others in their course of study so as to allow for purposeful communication in a trusting environment (p. 292). The importance of e-mmediacy cannot be overlooked. Social media can be a very effective tool in education, but if not used and incorporated effectively, it could suppress the very social connectedness that it is intended to support.

    I look forward to hearing the results of each member’s exploration of this field of inquiry!

    Slagter van Tryon, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2009). Theoretical foundations for enhancing social connectedness in online learning environments. Distance Education, 30(3), 291-315.

    1. Thank you so much, Sherry, for your very thoughtful response. I completely agree that one of the great questions about developing a social environment for learners is whether or not the educator should be a part of the group. Dennen and Burner (2017) observed that the majority of students in their study wouldn’t want to initiate friendship with an educator on social media… though they would if asked by the instructor… mostly out of politeness. When asked why they wouldn’t want to be friends with instructors, the majority of participants indicated they wanted to “maintain privacy” and that it “felt inappropriate” (p. 183). This article has been making me lean more towards creating environments without the instructor present, while making oneself available when necessary. Vanessa’s going to be doing some more work on the supportive nature of social networking sites (like Discord) in online learning… and how they can be helpful, but can’t replace the officially supported institution’s LMS. Since they’re not the official communication system… they therefore shouldn’t be mandatory… and how does that impact how the educator communicates with the group? I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.

      Dennen, V. P., & Burner, K. J. (2017). Identity, context collapse, and Facebook use in higher education: Putting presence and privacy at odds. Distance Education, 38(2), 173–192.

  2. Interesting research topic team 4.

    After reading this post, I immediately starting thinking about institutional policy regarding third-party applications like Discord. I’ve taught through both private and public higher education institutions, and while both encouraged innovative learner-teaching dyads, rules regarding student privacy and communication applications varied greatly. For instance, a private vocational college I used to teach at would encourage using various platforms and applications to boost student engagement and collaboration; it was entirely at the instructor’s discretion as long as the ethical standards of the school were continually met. Conversely, a public college I was involved with would have none of this type of application, especially considering the protection of student data and general privacy are not guaranteed. In this instance, the school would default to the generic/partnered LMS communication components and simply say no to new technologies like Discord; this school would have absolutely none of this type of application.
    It would be interesting to see some statistics on the adoption of Discord, or similar platforms, in the education system. You’ve got an excellent group to dig into this research topic, so I look forward to watching your presentation. I’ve been curious about integrating apps like Discord into my educational practice, so perhaps your research will be the deciding factor!


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