Cognitive presence and open learning: coming full circle again with #HumanMOOC

So here I am more or less completing #HumanMOOC – although readers will be very aware that completion can be a complex idea when it comes to MOOCs. I have not earned any badges (apologies to the organisers here as I said I would), and have not been particularly active on the discussion boards. I have, however, learned a lot from the course and that is of course the critical thing. So firstly many thanks to the team involved in putting it together – Whitney Kilgore, Robin Bartoletti, Dave Hallmon, and Maha Al-Freih. They have done a superb job.

The final week was devoted to the third “leg” of the Community of Inquiry model – cognitive presence. This is the process by which students (i.e. all of us) are helped to grapple with theories, ideas and problems. One approach (Garrison &Anderson, 2003), helpfully thinks about this in four stages:

1) Triggering event/recognising problem – this could be anything from an assignment question to a video, to a news item;

2) Exploration of possible solutions, doing research etc.;

3) Integration of findings – synthesis, exploration, bringing everything together;

4) Resolution of the problem – applying ideas and considering their relevance.

Of course, no one would say these need to be sequential, or that this process is always followed, but it seems to me a useful design tool. Much of the discussion in the week focused on the first of these – “triggering events”, and how to bring them into teaching with imagination and impact. The week kicked off with the academic and self-proclaimed “edupunk” Jim Groom describing a very unorthodox triggering event which he used. He delivered a class as a fictional character, who then disappeared. It’s well worth viewing the video for the full story, which is as weird and provocative as it sounds:

Maybe these tactics are not ones we could all use, but the part of this I found most fascinating was the way Groom’s approach pushed his students to consider the issue of identity on the Web, which in turn is a topic you can only really explore using the tools of the web. His argument, which I tend to agree with, is that educators so often see their role as engineering ways to hide from the Web. The Web is here, whether we like it or not, so our duty as educators is surely to help our students use it effectively and safely. And they can surely only learn about the Web, its capabilities and pitfalls by using it. Interestingly, a similar point was made in another (much shorter) video which was referenced in the course. Here, educator and blogger Will Richardson is discussing the concept of the Personal Learning Network:

Richardson’s point is that so much formal education pretends that children, or even older students, are not already part of personal learning networks. The fact is that they usually are, but we are not helping them develop the literacy to use them effectively. The video was made in 2007 but, in my experience as a parent, not much has changed since. My children get lots of talks on e-safety at their school and of course we have reinforced key messages about being careful how you share information, how to respond to cyber-bullying and so forth. But it gets pretty repetitive and the overall impression conveyed can be that the Web is a very dangerous place and the school would mostly rather you didn’t go there. Of course, most of the kids are there anyway, and we should encourage them to use the web creatively, and through their practice, develop the awareness they need to stay safe (or at least as safe as they reasonably can).

And I do wonder if we, as parents and educators, have room to set a better example in our own practice. Anyone following me on social media knows that Twitter and WordPress are indispensable tools of my practice – I struggle to imagine operating without them. By navigating and using the Web in this way, I like to think that I can serve as a role model for my students and my children. I certainly talk to my children about what I do and why, so hopefully they can learn from this, including from mistakes I have made. And there are countless other educators all over the world who blog, tweet, and use many other forms of media to share and discuss ideas.

And yet my experience is that we are still quite a small minority – a large majority of educators do not use these tools as part of their practice. Of course, they use the Web as a resource, but do not participate much in the professional community there. There are lots of reasons why they might not (including lack of support and training from their institutions), and of course I would not want to push someone into doing something they are uncomfortable with, even if I could. But I would, in all humility, like to pose a question to all educators: your students’ practice will most likely include professional engagement with the Web and learning to do this well may be one of the most important skills they need to learn. Are you in any position to teach and role model this if you yourself do not engage professionally with the Web in some form or other?

All of which brings me back to a topic I have blogged about before – being an open, networked teacher and learner. I am now more convinced of its importance than ever.


Garrison, D. R. & Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st century: a framework for research and practice. London, Routledge/Falmer.


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One response to “Cognitive presence and open learning: coming full circle again with #HumanMOOC

  1. Pingback: Uncertainty in management and embarking on #rhizo15 | learningshrew

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