Exploring the perceptions and effects of increased social and teaching presence in a postgraduate distance learning programme through a Community of Inquiry lens

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Context: The switch in many contexts to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that it is paramount that we have a clear understanding of virtual contexts and effective use of educational technologies that are conducive of learning. Drawing on the Community of Inquiry framework (Lipman, 1991), the present study investigates the impact of increased social and teaching presence on the students’ learning experience in a distance learning programme. The study was carried out in the context of a distance learning MA Education programme at a UK university. This distance learning programme offers an in-depth look at education for a diverse cohort of students located in different parts of the globe. The programme has run successfully for two decades, following a traditional mode of distance learning that used wikis and Moodle as repositories of primarily text-based materials. While this content driven self-study offers the advantages of independence of time and space for students with strong time commitments and geographically disperse (Croft et al., 2015), it ignores the benefits of collaborative knowledge construction (Baanqud et al., 2020; Dennen & Paulus, 2005).

Recognising the needs of the immensely diverse cohort, and with the aim of building and maintaining a virtual community where students can learn from each other and benefit from the richness of the diversity of the student population, the programme is undergoing a transition to exploit the affordances of educational technology in order to ensure accessibility and flexibility of delivery and also to enhance student interaction and engagement.

Aim: Due to the transformation of education during the global pandemic, that necessitated extensive use of technology, transformed students’ and tutors’ expectations and perceptions of online learning. The presentation will report on a study that examined how strengthening the social and teaching presence through engaging and interactive online activities in the programme was perceived and impacted student learning experience. The specific aims were: (1) to explore the extent to which the use of interactive technologies had an impact on student engagement; (2) to identify factors that impact engagement in the programme; (3) to investigate how different uses of technology facilitate the creation of a virtual community of inquiry; (4) to explore student and teacher engagement and perception of the introduction of these various methods of learning and teaching.

Theoretical background: The study draws on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework by Lipman (1991) and later applied to online teaching by Garrison and colleagues (2000). According to the CoI model, best learning experiences are facilitated by the creation of communities of learners engaged in constructing knowledge through interaction. The essential elements of the framework are social, cognitive and teaching presence. Studies focusing on the relationship between these elements suggest that social presence has a mediating role between teaching and cognitive presence. Teaching presence was also found as a determining factor when it comes to student satisfaction, perceived learning, and sense of community. Lipman (1991) also suggests that CoI is conducive of higher-order thinking and is a valuable educational context for facilitating critical thinking and deep learning.

Methodology: The study employed mixed methods of data collection: qualitative, in the form of semi-structured online interviews, focus groups and quantitative in the form of online surveys. The design based on the CoI framework consisted of the introduction of flexible modes of learning and teaching and took place during the academic year 2021/22. The intervention made use of various interactive technologies and involved multimodal elements. More specifically these included the following elements: applications of the VLE Moodle, interaction via MS Teams and Forms, real-time collaborative web platforms such as Padlet, multimodal presentation of materials in Sway, peer feedback mechanisms in WhatsApp and MS Teams.

Findings and Contributions: Preliminary results suggest that higher levels of social and teaching presence increase student engagement. The presentation will detail how the various elements of the design influenced student perception of online learning. Implications for designing distance learning programmes will be formulated.

Baanqud, N.S., Al-Samarraie, H., Alzahrani, A.I. et al. (2020). Engagement in cloud-supported collaborative learning and student knowledge construction: a modelling study. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 17, 56
Croft, N., Dalton, A. & Marcus Grant (2010). Overcoming Isolation in Distance Learning: Building a Learning Community through Time and Space. Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 5:1, 27-64.
Dennen, V.P., & Paulus, T.M. (2005). Researching "collaborative knowledge building" in formal distance learning environments. CSCL.
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
Lipman, M. (1991). Thinking in Education. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022
EventBERA Conference 2022 - University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Sept 20228 Sept 2022


ConferenceBERA Conference 2022
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom
Internet address


  • Community of Inquiry
  • online learning
  • distance learning
  • teaching presence
  • social presence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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