The Intersection of Social, Cognitive and Teaching Presence

Social Presence: This domain of “Community of Inquiry” is the ability of participants to project their individual personalities in order to identify and communicate with the community and develop inter-personal relationships (Garrison, 2009). As a result, a fundamental first activity that I plan to use in a “Foundations of Neuroscience” class -that I hope to each online- would be to have students introduce themselves. This quick introduction could be done via an audio or video recording and would involve the following basic identifiers: name, demographic background (optional), current major/field of study, a fun fact (could about anything) and why they are interested in neuroscience. The instructor will make the first post to emphasize teaching presence, since it is the instructor’s responsibility to set the climate. Bringing out individual personalities will lead to the identification of common interests among the students, which will build the foundations of this online community. Also, by asking students to elaborate on why they are interested in neuroscience, the course will be able to touch upon the intersection of social presence and cognitive presence.

Cognitive Presence: This subdomain is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001, 2004). This will be achieved by an assignment where students will be asked to create a blog on a neuroscience topic of their choosing. The blogs will be created by using a platform like Scholarblogs. Students will be instructed to conduct a literature review on their topic and to summarize the findings in three biweekly blog posts. Each post will be designed around a central message that the student wishes to relay about their particular topic. Besides creating their own blogs, students will also be asked to respond biweekly to two other students’ posts to encourage discussion. The ultimate goal will be to identify gaps in the existing literature and to generate ideas about future directions as a community.

Teaching Presence: This branch of “Community of Inquiry”  is the design, facilitation, and direction of the social and cognitive processes for the purpose of realizing the relevant learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001). Besides students posting comments on each other’s blog posts, the teacher will also engage in the discussion by providing feedback and recommendations for relevant scientific work that the students might not have come across during their literature reviews.

To conclude, by combining these three presence types in teaching, the course will encourage students to present their own voices in a welcoming environment that will enhance the meaning making process. The ultimate goal of science is to value novel thinking and problem solving over memorizing previously discovered facts. In line with this objective, students will be provided a platform to present their own novel ideas on how to build upon existing literature to tackle remaining questions in neuroscience.

3 Replies to “The Intersection of Social, Cognitive and Teaching Presence”

  1. I like how you have formatted your blog post. The format makes it easy to read and the definitions help set the stage.

    If this class is purely online then the social presence piece will be really critical, not only to establish with introductions, but to continue building throughout the semester. I wonder if there is some way to continue this type of activity regularly, in a way that connects with your topic?

    One thing that comes to mind is having students post short videos sharing a summary of a current events article or peer-reviewed publication that relates to neuroscience. This would allow them to share things that they find interesting, make them connect course content to outside applications, and teach them about discerning published news content.

  2. Esra, I really like your idea of having students maintain their own blog–this not only encourages greater depth of understanding re: their engagement of course content, but also allows them to simultaneously refine their writing skills in the context of scholarly writing. Even if informally written, it’s never a bad thing for students to work on clearly and concisely conveying information through text!

    In terms of teaching presence, while I definitely like your idea, I wonder what it might be like for you as an instructor to also maintain your own blog that identifies and weaves together trends within student blog posts. There is likely to be some overlap somehow and you could tie themes in with course concerns or relevant material. I always found it really interesting to get an instructor’s bird’s eye view like that.

  3. I agree that the student blogs are a great idea. It can help with student ownership of the content and introduce something we call “wild genres” in writing programs. Those are real world applications of our work rather than the stuffy essays or pared down IMRAD assignments we usually give. In this assignment you have students engage in outreach (so important for science researchers now) and assigns real genre used by scientists, the literature review.

    ScholarBlogs would be great, but we also have Domain of One’s Own ( It’s managed by the writing program, so I’m not sure how it would work out in neuroscience, but their documentation might be useful for thinking through the kind of work you want students to do.

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