Establishing communities of inquiry in online education
To ensure successful learning, researchers argue that online learners should have equivalent experiences to those in the face-to-face setting (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015). With the separation of distance and often time, confounded by a lack of visual cues, online educators have to seek alternative approaches and tools to provide equivalent learning experiences. To this end, Garrison et al. (2000) advanced a Community of Inquiry (CoI) model, which delineates three key aspects of online learning: teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence. While the ultimate goal of online learning is to achieve a high cognitive presence, indicated by higher-order cognitive activities such as analysis and synthesis, successful achievement of a high cognitive presence relies heavily on optimal teaching and social presences (Arbaugh et al., 2008; Garrison, Cleveland-Innes, & Fung, 2010; Huang, Law, & Lee, 2018). As such, teaching presence, demonstrated in careful design and strategic facilitation of online learning, becomes essential. Not only can teaching presence promote cognitive presence, it can also foster social presence through mindful building of a supportive community where learners develop personal relationships and feel open to share, negotiate, and collaborate. The heightened social presence, in turn, further enhances cognitive presence (Akyol & Garrison, 2011).
To fully leverage the power of communities of inquiry, online instructors and learners need to aim for optimal teaching, social, and cognitive presences. Learning tasks should be designed to promote purposeful inquiries whereby learners encounter challenges, explore and integrate information, and eventually resolve the challenges (Garrison, 2017). As learners engage in the learning tasks, interact with content materials, and collaborate with peers, critical reflections and discourses need to be planned and facilitated in order to achieve deep and meaningful knowledge construction (Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013). Meanwhile, the instructor should foster a culture of open communication, trust, respect, and responsibility in order to build a cohesive class community (Huang, Lee, & Dugan, 2016). Around the world, researchers and educators have implemented instructional strategies, often supported by emerging technologies, to build and sustain online communities of practice. For example, in Australia, scenario-based simulations were used to engage pharmacy students in reflective inquiries (Hattingh, Robinson, & Kelly, 2018); in Germany, an online collaboration platform was used to facilitate and streamline students’ discussions with peers and the instructor on course lectures (Islam, Flint, Jaecks, & Cap, 2017); scholars from the Netherland used peer feedback and its triggered dialogues to promote deep learning among online learners (Filius et al., 2018); U.S. scholars reported the use of various questioning strategies and techniques to promote deep dialogues and cognitive presences in online discussions (Hambacher, Ginn, & Slater, 2018; Sadaf & Olesova, 2017).
While the CoI framework has provided timely guidance and general principles for online education, there is a shortage in the literature regarding systematic operationalization of CoI in specific online courses. The issue is further complicated by the challenge to apply the general principles to various content areas, learners, learning outcomes, and education levels that require adaptive strategies and approaches (Morrison, Ross, Morrison, & Kalman, 2019). Therefore, it was the intention of this study to operationalize CoI in an online graduate-level foundational theories class in the subject area of instructional design. Particularly, in consideration of the unique learning objectives, learners, and context of the course, the instructor adopted wikis as a pedagogical tool to facilitate the course learning experience. From the perspective of CoI, teaching presence was reflected in the instructor’s design and implementation of wiki-supported learning activities, which aimed to promote students’ cognitive and social presences. The next section provides a review of wikis as pedagogical tools in online learning.
Wikis as pedagogical tools in online learning
The rise of Web 2.0 technologies introduced a new paradigm in education by minimizing technical barriers for learners to create and share web-based content (Ge, Law, & Huang, 2012; Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009). Weblogs, for example, provide convenient platforms for learners to document and share their experiences and reflections; social networking tools such as Twitter provide social spaces for learners to share short messages and interact with others (Hew & Cheung, 2013). More recently, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide open educational resources to the public through platforms that encompass a variety of pedagogical tools (Breslow et al., 2013). Compared with the aforementioned tools, wikis offer unique functionalities that enable multiple authors to collectively edit same pages of web-based content. Generally, wikis have at least three common features across different platforms. First, a user can edit a wiki page by making any revisions to its content. Once saved, the page automatically displays the latest version. Second, wikis usually have history features that track and document which authors made what changes to a page. The history feature also allows the comparison between versions of a document. Third, most wikis also allow users to make comments on a page.
Successful wiki products such as Wikipedia prompted educators to explore its applications to education (Chao & Lo, 2011; Lau, Lui, & Chu, 2017; Lin & Kelsey, 2009). Technically, the affordances of wikis make them ideal tools for online collaborative learning. Their unique features enable learners to work in groups to collaborate on a paper, a project, or other types of assignments. In reviewing peers’ contributions, editing collective works, and integrating different perspectives, learners could naturally engage in active knowledge negotiation and construction (Ahlholm, Grunthal, & Harjunen, 2017; Hsu, Ching, & Grabowski, 2014), thereby achieving satisfactory social and cognitive presences. However, as contended by Kim (2012), tools “should be defined by how they are used in specific contexts rather than what technological functions they support” (p.21). The actual use of wikis in education is not without issues. In examining wiki usage based on a population of nearly 180,000 wikis in U.S. K-12 schools, Reich, Murnane, and Willett (2012) found that only 1% wikis were used for collaborative learning, while the majority were for resource sharing among teachers, content delivery by teachers, or individual works by students. Further, more than a third of wikis were used in language-related subject areas (Reich et al., 2012), whereas other subjects see much less use despite wikis’ affordances. Taken together, there appears to be a significant gap between the educational affordances of wikis and their actual use in education.
While a variety of reasons may underlie the challenge in using wikis to support collaborative learning, the literature suggests at least two factors for consideration. First, learners’ collaboration in wikis is often lower than expected. In fact, Lin and Kelsey (2009) pointed out that collaborative writing in wikis was an exception, not the norm. Learners’ contributions were often characterized as adding new content, sharing information, editing grammar, or formatting, while the actual revision of content was to a much less extent (Cho & Lim, 2017; Hadjerrouit, 2014). The comment made by a graduate student in Sharp and Whaley’s (2018) study might represent many students’ hesitation to edit peers’ content, “I didn’t want to step on any toes by altering someone else’s work” (p.89). Reflecting on the low levels of collaboration, Hadjerrouit (2014) suggested that wikis might be better used to support cooperative, brainstorming, rather than collaborative activities.
Another factor regarding wiki usage is the underlying pedagogy. Numerous researchers observed that effective instructional use of wikis is contingent upon sound design and effective facilitation (e.g., Lin & Kelsey, 2009; Stoddart, Chan, & Liu, 2016). Researchers proposed various strategies to scaffold wiki learning activities. For example, Jung and Suzuki (2015) suggested the use of a template, heterogeneous grouping, and peer reviews to scaffold collaboration; De Wever, Hamalaninen, Voet, and Gielen (2015) used a collaboration script to maximize sharing and co-editing among students; Cho and Lim (2017) used both individual and group regulative activities to increase collaborative writing; and Stoddart et al. (2016) drew from the literature a framework to guide instructors in facilitating wiki collaboration.
In light of the literature and the context of the course under investigation, this study chose to use wikis to support the part of the course learning experiences that were more cooperative than collaborative in nature. In formulating tool-specific strategies for the unique implementation (Cho & Lim, 2017), the author referred to the aforementioned strategies, and additionally turned to the literature on scaffolding learning in technology-supported learning environments, which is introduced next.
Scaffolding in technology-supported learning environments
The concept of scaffolding was rooted in the works of Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), who defined scaffolding as the process of enabling a novice to accomplish a task that would otherwise be impossible. Over the years, various scaffolding frameworks have been proposed to facilitate a variety of learning processes and outcomes, such as constructing evidence-based arguments (Belland, Glazewski, & Richardson, 2008), science inquiries (Quintana et al., 2004), ill-structured problem solving (Ge & Land, 2004; Ge et al., 2012), and motivation (Belland, Kim, & Hannafin, 2013).
In technology-supported learning environments such as wikis, learning is often supported with a suite of scaffolding strategies and tools. Scaffolds can be conceptualized along several dimensions. For example, Saye and Brush (2002) distinguished between hard and soft scaffolds. Hard scaffolds offer pre-planned, static supports. For example, the aforementioned template by Jung and Suzuki (2015) is a form of hard scaffolds. Soft scaffolds provide dynamic and situation-specific guidance, often by a teacher or peers. For example, an instructor’s monitoring of and feedback to students’ wiki contributions can be considered a soft scaffold. Along another dimension, scaffolds can be conceived in four key aspects: Who, What, How, and When (Ge et al., 2012). Regarding Who, the providers of scaffolds can be peers, computer systems, or the instructor. Regarding What, scaffolds can be designed to support a variety of cognitive, metacognitive, or motivational processes. How has to do with the way in which scaffolds are provided. Templates, resources, and social discourses are all different scaffolding approaches. Lastly, When is about the timing of scaffolding, which can be pre-designed, just-in-time, or throughout the duration of learning. The different conceptualizations of scaffolding provided helpful guidance in the design of scaffolds for the wiki activities in this study.
Informed by the theoretical frameworks, the researcher took on a design experiment approach (Brown & Campione, 1996) to design, implement, and investigate cooperative, scaffolded wiki learning activities in the aforementioned online graduate-level course. The next section details the context of the online course and the design of wiki learning activities, followed by the research questions generated in the process of design and implementation.