Category Archives: LRNT 526

Critical Inquiry into a Learning Community on a Social Network

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been collaborating with Jean-Pierre Joubert, Vanessa Tran, and Eric Yu on a critical inquiry into the development of a Community of Inquiry (CoI) on a Social Networking Site (SNS) such as Discord.  It’s been a really interesting pursuit and I’ve learned a lot about the nature of a CoI, its strengths and weaknesses, and the benefits and drawbacks of facilitating this framework through a SNS.

The CoI framework, developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) consists of a group of learners coming together with a common goal of building new knowledge and/or skills.  There are three main foundational constructs associated with a

CoI, which are Cognitive Presence, Social Presence, and Teaching Presence.  These constructs work in unison and overlap with a goal of deep and meaningful learning for participants.  Considering the inherent social nature of a CoI, this framework works well when facilitated on a SNS as the built-in affordances of a platform such as Discord allow for a combination of casual and academic discourse, but there are also concerns.

Throughout our inquiry, our group identified a series of issues associated with introducing a SNS into academics including accessibility, data privacy, identity development, and whether or not to make it mandatory for a course.  Not all students will have access to the chosen SNS, or may not be comfortable (or indeed permitted) to use it.  As a result, mandatory use for such a system outside the official institution’s learning management system is not recommended.  Additionally, third-party platforms including Discord rarely answer to anyone but themselves in terms of their responsibility with user data (Discord, 2020).  With that being the case, informed consent should be sought from learners when making use of this type of tool.  Finally, since learners develop their professional identities when interacting with a CoI, the educator should be cautious of the implications of the possible collision between personal and academic identity fragments online (Dennen & Burner, 2017; Kimmons & Veletsianos, 2014; Lowenthal & Dennen, 2017).

While I’m still working on my final conclusions on this subject, it’s been a fascinating discovery and I look forward to applying it to my practice.


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.

Discord. (2020). Discord privacy policy.

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.

Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (2014). The fragmented educator 2.0: Social networking sites, acceptable identity fragments, and the identity constellation. Computers & Education, 72, 292–301.

Lowenthal, P. R., & Dennen, V. P. (2017). Social presence, identity, and online learning: research development and needs. Distance Education, 38(2), 137–140.

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.


Identity in an Online Learning Environment Facilitated Through Discord

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

As part of my on-going education in learning technology, I’m currently at the beginning of a deep dive into research surrounding the development of student and educator identity in an Online Learning Environment (OLE), examined through the lens of a Community of Inquiry (COI).  I’m specifically interested in how this might be achieved through the adoption of a community building platform called Discord.  Discord was launched in early 2015 as a platform designed to create online communities for video game users and is “just now realizing it may have stumbled into something like the future of the internet” (Pierce, 2020, para. 4).

This platform allows for robust interactions between participants including text chat, voice, and screen sharing moderated through granular permission controls and divided into topics controlled through communities (referred to on Discord as “servers”) and discussions (referred to as “channels”).  How might the use of a Social Networking Site (SNS), like Discord, impact the development of student and educator online identities to facilitate social, teaching, and cognitive presence in a COI, and how might that both positively and negatively impact learning?

A few areas of concern related to identity development in an OLE are context collapse, miscategorization, and othering.  Dennen and Burner (2017) asserted that context collapse occurs when two or more separate identity fragments converge, either intentionally or otherwise.  An example of this might occur when a student has developed a personal identity on an SNS and is then required to use it for educational purposes, forcing the collision of both the personal and student identities.  This collision could have both positive and negatives outcomes.  One negative outcome could be a possible identity miscategorization.  Lowenthal and Dennen (2017) observed that while we can communicate qualities of our identity online, we do not have complete control over its development and interpretation by others.  As a result, a student’s identity can be interpreted differently than how they see themselves which can result in a reduced social presence.  Finally, othering, is the concept of isolating individuals from discourse as a result of their incongruence with the dominant ideas of the community.  This can negatively impact social presence, as Phirangee and Malec (2017) observed, when learners can’t identify with the majority of their classmates and may find themselves with a reduced capacity to interact with the learning community.

It’s been my observation with my exploration of Discord, that it may be well positioned to reduce the likelihood of the aforementioned concerns surrounding online identity.  Primarily, as it provides infrastructure which can be used to maintain separation between personal and educational identity fragments, through the use of servers and multiple accounts, it may reduce the possibility of context collapse.  This fragment separation may also reduce miscategorization and othering, but I need to explore this further.

I would love to hear your feedback on what I’ve explored so far and any possible questions or recommendations you may have.


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.

Lowenthal, P. R., & Dennen, V. P. (2017). Social presence, identity, and online learning: research development and needs. Distance Education, 38(2), 137–140.

Phirangee, K., & Malec, A. (2017). Othering in online learning: An examination of social presence, identity, and sense of community. Distance Education, 38(2), 160–172.

Pierce, D. (2020). How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet. Protocol.