Applying the Community of Inquiry Framework to Lectures

I have chosen to discuss the roll of the community of inquiry framework in the most common learning activity in most university-level math classes: the lecture. This will be instructive for me as a thought-exercise to explore how the lecture affects learning for my own students, and I hope I will also be able to add insight from my own experience as a student who has sat in one too many lectures. To organize my thoughts, I will focus separately on each of the three branches of the community of inquiry we have learned about in this module. However, I will try to be mindful of where those branches overlap and how that may impact students experience in a learning community.

I begin with teaching presence. Lectures are in many cases dominated by teachers. A teacher who has mastered the lecture can lead a motivating class which lifts students up and fills their mind with new, exciting questions. On the flip side, a bad lecturer can make the clock the only interesting part of a classroom. Much of this is related to the learning climate and learning regulation. A positive lecturer frequently asks interesting questions, challenging students to predict or build on the material presented. In the best classes, this is a social interaction where students share their thoughts socially with the lecturer and others in the class, but this can also be effective as a student-self interaction where a lecturer’s questions help students to check understanding and organize thoughts internally. Learning regulation deals with how a teacher presents lecture materials to students. Materials should be introduced clearly at the proper pace. Too slow, students lose interest. Too fast, students get lost. Learning how to regulate the learning environment and classroom climate are two essential skills every graduate-student lecturer in mathematics has had to battle, yours truly included.

Next, I turn my focus to cognitive presence. In my own experience as a teacher, I have found this the difficult branch of the community to monitor in a lecture setting. It is often difficult to judge students individual and collective ability to synthesize information and learn. Obviously, these skills in lecture are tied with the presentation of the material by the teacher, but to me the link with social presence is also key. Most of my monitoring of the cognitive branch of the community of inquiry comes via social interactions in and out of class with students. For lectures, this occurs most commonly through questions exchanged in the lecture, but office hours outside of the lecture are crucial in determining which concepts are difficult to students and where learning needs further work. Evaluations are the worst case “social” interaction, where a bad score on a quiz or test leads to a group re-examination of the groups learning from both students and teachers.

The social branch of the community of inquiry is the most difficult branch to cultivate in a lecture setting. Even in the best lectures, question and answer techniques make it difficult to foster a community feeling among the class. In my previous classes, I have tried to bolster this by repeatedly using students names, particularly at the beginning of the course. As mentioned above, office hours are also crucial to developing teacher-student and student-student bonds. One of the most powerful learning techniques in mathematics is repetition of materials through re-teaching or re-explaining concepts to a teacher or classmate, and doing this in small group settings outside of class leads to better learning outcomes and a better sense of community in the class. One takeaway for future classes of mine will be how to introduce group projects and social-based learning activities more heavily into lecture-based courses.

In summary, the three pillars of the community of inquiry provide an interesting lens through which to examine the common lecture-based format of mathematics classes. Previously, I had focused on my role as a the teacher in the teaching presence pillar, and the university emphasis on learning outcomes has made me aware of the cognitive function of the class in my lectures, but writing this post has emphasized to me how inseparable these branches are from the social presence of the community. In the future, I hope to focus more on this branch and find new, creative ways to include social interactions both student-teacher and student-student within lectures.


5 Replies to “Applying the Community of Inquiry Framework to Lectures”

  1. James, I really enjoyed this level of attention to the art of the lecture–if only all instructors did! (Jokes!) I wonder if, for an online course, you would be integrating virtual lectures into your course somehow? (This is what I automatically inferred.) If so, I wonder if looking at the best kinds of lecture styles that you have experienced might be helpful in thinking about alternative, virtual methods of appealing to each of the kinds of presence. You being present in front of the students, even if virtually, seems to be a key way to increase teaching presence. If you are doing a live stream of a lecture, though, maybe you could have a live text-based chat where you could facilitate student-teacher interaction? You could set aside a few minutes every half hour (or whatever chunk of time seems right to you) to check the chat, get an impression of the problem areas or pick a few key questions, and answer them. That would help with cognitive presence. There might even be ways of figuring out social presence there, too. Maybe students could take turns introducing the live stream with a short recap of last week’s lessons? Just speculating!

  2. Echoing Sarah, I too think there are some ways to incorporate social presence into your lecture both in offline and online (if it is a live lecture) class settings. For example, you may think of using an anonymous survey application during your lecture (probably at the end) and warp up your lecture with spontaneously created survey results. That way, you will be able to maintain students’ concentration and incorporate their interactions into your lecture, maybe?

    On a side note, Sarah, I really like all suggestions you mentioned. Especially the idea that student take turns introducing the live stream with a short recap of last week’s lessons sounds great. I might try it with my face-to-face teaching, even. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the suggestions. These are some good ideas. I’ve thought of something like the lecture recap from a student in my classroom-based lectures, but I have always held off due to tight syllabus in the math department here. Perhaps it is something I could introduce once I get more control over designing my own course. The survey questions are also a nice idea for online lectures or lectures where students are using computers.

  4. Wonderful analysis of the lecture format! I see you’ve really hit on something with how our class community has been so interested in this post! I think it’s fascinating the way you fold evaluations into social interaction. We can forget that there’s a social aspect to our feedback and grading.

    To bring more social interaction into a course that must be lecture heavy, have you tried “think-pair-share” exercises? Of course, you have a lot to get through in 50-minutes, but sometimes in an auditorium setting we can give students time to discuss a concept with a neighbor and maybe have a few volunteers share some of the things they looked at. For an online environment, maybe the pairing could be done through Canvas groups or using an external tool like G+ Hangouts.

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