community of inquiry model

Pedagogical Perspective

Description: The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) works with SUNY campuses and online learning practitioners from around the system to develop communities of practice among faculty, instructional designers, and directors on online learning, and campus-based roles to administer and institutionalize online programs at the campus level. Specifically, our charge is to assist the system to develop large numbers of faculty to teach online and to ensure consistent and effective courses, developed within a specific time frame. We accomplish this with comprehensive and integrated faculty development and course/learning design processes that are iterative, designed for continuous improvements, and that view faculty and their students as adult learners. We avoid cookie cutter mass production of courses with flexible research-based online course design models and by leveraging campus-based expert online practitioners that quick start effective online course design and provide campus-based online faculty instructional design support. This model supports large-scale online faculty development, and provides opportunity to influence the quality and consistency of courses by sharing best practices across the design of all courses, and to observe and collect best practices and data for further research. Faculty and their content drive course design while giving us the opportunity to continuously learn and improve our understanding of effective online teaching and learning. Our processes are organic, ever evolving, and flexible. This model extends beyond our work with faculty and their courses into processes, procedures, policy, and application design. We implement scalable and replicable processes to train large numbers of faculty to produce consistently technically and instructionally sound courses that result in consistent high levels of faculty retention to the program, and in faculty and student satisfaction. Philosophically, we believe that instructional (learning) design is about creating rich, robust teaching and learning environments with opportunities for interaction with course content, between students, and with the instructor. Theoretically, we take a constructivist approach to learning and our research findings support the definition of learning as a social process. Our theoretical framework integrates the elements of “How People Learn,” Bransford, et al (2002); the “Community of Inquiry Model,” Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2002); “The Seven Principals of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” Chickering, and Gamson (1987); and the elements that comprise a positive sense of classroom community, Rovai (2002), into the faculty development program for new and experienced online instructors and into our course design processes, best practices, standards, recommendations, and approaches.

Successful, effective, and satisfied online instructors have the opportunity for reflection, the opportunity to observe and interact with experienced online faculty and their courses, the opportunity to experiment in an online environment to explore the student perspective, time to devote to their professional development, a comprehensive customized professional development plan and guidelines for course development, and institutional support.  They are well trained, well supported, have effective course designs on a robust platform, and demonstrate effective teaching practices in their online course management. Their online courses are designed to promote a sense of class community, and to cultivate teaching, social, and cognitive presences, where there are ample opportunities for interaction and for the social construction of knowledge in a learner-centered environment.

Online Faculty Development Model: Specifically, Open SUNY COTE faculty development consists of a 4-stage online faculty development process and 7-step online course design process that include an online “student experience” for new faculty, faculty development/training activities, exemplar courses for observation, membership in a community of practice now numbering over 5,000 trained online faculty with organized centrally supported opportunities to interact, share, and learn from each other. Open SUNY COTE faculty development also cultivates a cadre of exemplar online faculty and courses that volunteer for standing Open SUNY COT  training programmatic events: courses for observation, experienced faculty roundtables, QA testers, focus group members, pilot testers, and R&D. Training over 150 new faculty each term (over 300/year) and over 500 returning faculty per year with over 120 training sessions at 8 training locations around the state of New York with 4 face to face workshops and an online asynchronous course for new faculty, and an instructional design institute with a changing topic for returning faculty, the SLN faculty development team reach 800+ faculty per year and consistently achieve 90% satisfaction with SLN and online teaching and learning from faculty and students. Online opportunities for training have been added, providing additional alternatives and reach of Open SUNY COTE faculty development activities. Web resources for new and returning online faculty include a comprehensive “how to” manual for faculty, and  access to resources, information, tools, communication hubs, networking opportunities, models, research, and exemplars. To insure that we serve the entire continuum of online teaching and learning from web-enhanced to full online, we are developing a new model for faculty development that provides multiple access points depending on various factors, that also logically aggregates training/development in a programmed incremental manner leading from online syllabus to fully online, that is delivered in multiple formats, via varied delivery mechanisms for maximum flexibility and reach. Our goal is to model learner-centered andragogical approaches in our new faculty development program and to develop online faculty that can in turn apply that to their own online teaching and course designs. Our goal is also to provide the experienced online instructor with opportunities to share, reflect upon, evaluate and improve their own courses and online teaching and learning experiences that result in ongoing professional development, membership and participation in a community of practice, courses that are regularly and consistently reviewed and revised each time they are taught. Our contact, interaction, and support of this experienced community also help us continuously improve our own understanding of online teaching and learning, and assess and improve the effectiveness of our services and support of online faculty.

Instructional and Course Design:

Our best practices show that high levels of “Teaching Presence” (Anderson, 2001) – effective instructional design and organization, facilitation of productive discourse and direct instruction – positively and significantly influence the satisfaction and reported learning of online students. There is also evidence to suggest that a strong sense of community in the classroom helps reduce student feelings of isolation and “burnout” associated with higher attrition levels in both classroom-based and distance learning. A positive sense of community also promotes the likelihood of student support and information flow, commitment to group goals, cooperation among members and satisfaction with group processes and efforts [e.g. Rovai (2002)]. Teaching Presence is the facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. In a learner-centered teaching and learning environment, teaching presence is demonstrated not only by the instructor, but also by the students. Classroom Community is comprised of various elements of community including trust, spirit, connectedness, belonging, membership, various forms of support, and the rich and productive milieu that communities of practice can engender for teaching and learning. We believe that there is a relationship between teaching presence and the development of community in online learning environments – that courses characterized by effective teaching presence are more likely to develop a stronger sense of community on the part of students. Models, wizards, templates, exemplars, and standards allow us to inform and influence the design of all courses. Our processes, tools, and approaches are iterative, ever evolving, and flexible.

The Continuum of Web-enhanced/Blended to Fully online Course Design Models.

  1. Student Interaction-Only model: Instructor-less web presence for online student interaction.
  2. Present Course Content model: Instructor-posted course materials (syllabus and course information, attachments, lecture notes, links) with no instructor interaction.
  3. Paperless Classroom model: Provide an online drop box for papers and assignments, a dropbox for return feedback, and assignment evaluations, an online gradebook and tracking mechanisms, course calendar, file storage and retrieval for instructor-created course materials for instructor and student posted course materials/information with no interaction.
  4. Online Interaction-driven model: Provide online course areas for online interaction with content, students and instructor such as online discussions, resources/readings, self-assessments/tests, group projects, surveys/polls, online folders for private communications, online evaluations/gradebook, questions/FAQs, peer to peer assistance, study groups, tutoring, etc. Online course components supplement the face to face classroom activities.
  5. Chronological model:  Course content and online course areas for online interaction are organized and presented online in a chronological manner. Online course components replace certain face to face classroom activities (with reduced seat time).
  6. Task-based content-driven model: Course content is organized by types of tasks and presented online in a manner that provides advanced organizers, logical content structure presentation, information, instructions and instructional cues, consistent and standardized course navigation and processes. Online course components replace certain face to face classroom activities (with reduced seat time).
  7. Fully-online model: An online course that reconceptualizes teaching and learning of the course content, activities, interaction for the online environment that leverages the options, features and functionality of the online teaching and learning environment (with no required face to face or synchronous interaction).

Support: Currently the Open SUNY COTE instructional design team consists of 4 full time SLN-based senior-level learning designers and 40+ campus-based instructional designers (IDs) who meet regularly once a month via conference call, and have two annual face to face meetings: the Open SUNY COTE Summit (a 3-day conference held at the end of February or early March in Syracuse and New York City on alternating years, and the annual OS COTE Roundtable (held during the CIT conference). Over 100 campus-based IDs have been trained to date. Campus-based IDs are hired by individual SUNY campuses as local support for the campus’ online faculty, and are trained centrally. Building a locally available campus resource facilitates campus ownership and investment in the program, and makes access for faculty convenient. Each senior level SLN ID is assigned geographically to campuses without local ID support and carry a maximum of 30 new faculty to support per term. They are mentors and leaders among the ID community.

Though part editor, part technical support, the “ID” is primarily an expert in instructional design and online teaching and learning. They are also experts in the learning management software and technology and can guide the faculty to the most effective and efficient ways to achieve their instructional objectives. All IDs are given an orientation to the program and trained in our models, approaches, and processes. As part of a robust professional development program, they observe courses, complete an online orientation, participate in course design reviews, review and familiarize themselves with our guidelines, tips, recommendations and our course developer handbook. They are also encouraged to take an online course, and are given a practice template and encouraged to develop an online course. They become members of the program’s instructional design team and participate actively in monthly meetings. As part of their training, new IDs carry a reduced load of faculty, partner with the lead instructional designer for support, and assume progressively responsible roles at the faculty trainings.

Additionally, the ID functions as a single point of contact between the instructor and the Open SUNY COTE program. The ID team is kept up to date on the latest programmatic information, procedural changes, technology or instructional design issues, and provides a forum for designers to share information and tips, and the opportunity to brainstorm and problem-solve solutions to design and technology issues with each other. Working so closely with their faculty and having the Open SUNY COTE Instructional Design Team to rely on, puts the IDs in an advantageous position to share information, strategies, and solutions with their cohort of assigned faculty and with each other.

The Open SUNY COTE campus-ID model, is at its simplest a train the trainer model. IDs not only disseminate the best practices collected or researched in a coordinated and consistent manner, but also contribute themselves to the data collection, evaluation, revision, feedback, and best practices collection loop. Today, SLN IDs are a large community of highly experienced online instructional design professionals all dedicated to the common cause of supporting Open SUNY online faculty from all disciplines in the development of their online courses. The instructional design team uses a common online community group (ning) to post questions, document common issues and solutions, disseminate documentation, and share information between meetings.

Research: Collecting and analyzing data since 1998 from SLN faculty and students, the Open SUNY COTE faculty development team supports a research agenda to provide a theoretical framework and context from which to base their understanding of how people teach and learn well online, which informs all aspects of online course design, and online faculty development. Now a nationally recognized body of scholarly work that contributes to the understanding of effective practices in online teaching and learning, we combine theory with practice to improve all Open SUNY COTE faculty/ID development activities, processes, models, events, resources, materials, trainings, enhancements to our approaches, and in maximizing the use of the features and functionality of online course management systems effectively.

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