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Online Teaching

Optimizing the Online Experience


Text Box: Community of Inquiry Model by Matbury, available under a CC  BY-SA license at

Text Box: Community of Inquiry Model by Matbury, available under a CC BY-SA license at

The above diagram represents the Community of Inquiry model, a popular organizational framework for an online course. A community of inquiry refers to a collaborative environment where the instructor encourages students to work together as a class or in small groups to problem solve. The optimal educational experience occurs when there is significant social presence, cognitive presence and instructor presence. To determine the extent to which your course is meeting the requirements of the COI model, ask yourselves the following questions:

Please click the link for information

1. Social presence: Do students feel comfortable using the course technology and interacting with their peers and the instructor?

According to Scollins Mantha, 2008:

  • Allow students into the course early to explore and get used to the LMS.
  • Have strong technology support or links to support within the course.
  • Provide netiquette guidelines that encourage respectful student interaction.
  • Establish a student lounge for students to share ideas/questions/comments.
  • Respond quickly to student inquiries and provide detailed feedback where necessary.
  • Encourage group work—have students collaborate in small groups on projects, case studies, simulations etc.
  • Be flexible – where possible give students choice in assignments and due dates; foster student creativity eg. videos, podcast etc.

2. Instructor presence: To what extent am I visible and approachable to students? How am I creating a safe and welcoming environment while facilitating student cognition and encouraging higher order thinking, such as analysis and reflection?

  • Instructor Block
  • Welcome letter/email/video
  • Provide course orientation
  • Share plan of engagement
  • Introductory activity – Instructor video or similar?
  • Picture in your profile?
  • Description in your profile?
  • Do you use your calendar?
  • Use Moodle email to send class and/or individual emails? (Messages are tracked through Moodle but go to Outlook) .
  • Be clear in your language – for example, “I am telling a joke” or use emoticons if possible (Scollins-Mantha, 2008).
  • Share personal experiences – for example, your academic background or experiences as a student (Scollins-Mantha, 2008).
  • Use humor to set students at ease (Scollins-Mantha, 2008).
  • Encourage higher levels of cognition. For example, moderate the discussion forums and prompt students with questions and comments (Scollins-Mantha, 2008).
    - eg. “That’s a great point. Have you considered this view?”
  • At the end of a discussion, provide students with a summary of key points; this is called weaving.

3. Cognitive presence: To what extent do your course assignments and activities encourage higher order thinking? Is your course designed to encourage collaboration and problem solving? Is your course organized to reduce the cognitive load of students? For example, can students easily navigate through the course and locate information?

Navigation and Formatting

  • Format your course according to the units or topics identified in the course outline.
  • List course outline grades the same way you do in the gradebook .
  • Refer to all the side blocks in your course.
  • Ensure the course has no empty modules.
  • Completely hide blocks/modules for students that are for instructors only.
  • Ensure your course is less than 1 ½ pages (scroll).
  • Use books, lessons or folders for topics that have many pages.
  • Use activities/assessments with standardized headings: Value, Background and Instructions.
  • Provide an introduction/overview to each section (identifying SLOs and readings).
  • Include a closing to each section (Summary/Checklist).

Content. For each of your sections/modules/topics/weeks, do you:

  • Have formative activities?
  • Provide interactive activities? Allow for peer interaction?
  • Use feedback tools within quizzes (Specific or Overall)?
  • Use multiple means of representation: videos, charts, audio files, text, pictures?
  • Provide tools for students to interact with content using web-based tools?

For assessments and activities, do you:

  • Encourage student collaboration as a class or in smaller groups?
  • Include opportunities for reflection, analysis and problem solving?
  • Ask students to apply their learning to a real world context (Scollins-Mantha, 2008)? eg. Case studies, simulations



Scollins-Mantha, B. (2008, March). Cultivating social presence in the online learning classroom: A literature review with recommendations for practice. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 5(3).

Chickering & Gamson

The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

These principles apply to any learning experience regardless of modality (online. face to face, blended).

  • Encourage contact between students and faculty
  • Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Encourage active learning
  • Give prompt feedback
  • Emphasize time on task
  • Communicate high expectations
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

Chickering, A.W & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education [PDF file]. Retrieved Retrieved  from