Intersecting Monologues

This week I realized  with some trepidation that there were 487 discussion board posts I had not read after just six weeks of an educational technology class and worse, I had all but given up on participating in this important component of this course. Wondering if anyone else was feeling as over (or under?) whelmed by the discussion boards, I started a new thread in the ‘open’ area of the boards. I learned I am not alone in feeling alienated by the volume of responses.

A Community of Inquiry model, as discussed by Garrison et al in 2000, suggests that the social presence is one of a triad of elements (along with cognitive presence and teaching presence), integral to learning in an online course. The nature of online discussion allows all learners an equal opportunity to participate in and create collective knowledge by sharing and elaborating ideas. It enables collaborative knowledge-building processes where each student becomes reflective, thinks critically, and understands concepts better than if they were studying alone. It is amazing that through the use of Twitter, for example, we can communicate directly with people from all over the world, can collect a variety of resources, and have experts at our fingertips.

dogs-on-ghSo why do our discussion boards seem to be comprised of ‘intersecting monologues’ that lack discourse and connection between participants and ideas?  And does this have a negative impact on the educational experience? In this case, the facilitator stepped in and recommended that we shift our focus to talking about reactions to the unit contents explored in each forum thread rather than reiterating the readings to encourage connection and interaction. I appreciate his willingness to ‘changing pace in an online course…to capitalize on what’s working, and tweak what isn’t.’

2 down, 485 unread messages to go…..


Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2000), Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education


Author: kathleenlegris

I am an academic specialist working with the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development at the University of Manitoba. Interested in teaching and learning and all things EdTech.

One thought on “Intersecting Monologues”

  1. Interesting exchange on course discussion board:
    AP: While I was reading the Garrison paper, I was reminded of the Online Discussions thread Kathleen started. It seems the comments in that thread spoke to a balance between Cognitive Presence and Social Presence in online learning. If I understand correctly, Kathleen was commenting on a tendency toward heavy Cognitive Presence with a lack of supporting discourse. Her comments highlighted the potential of asynchronous discussions leading to “intersecting monologues” with no real connection between ideas (and participants). i.e. a lack of projection of personal characteristics into the community that comes from a strong Social Presence.

    Garrison et al wondered if online discussions encourage more critical thinking while face-to-face discussions might lead to more creative interactions. I think this was Kathleen’s point.

    Enter Rob, representing Teaching Presence, who recognized and acknowledged potential frustrations with this method of learning, i.e. a negative impact on the Education Experience, after which he suggested an alternate approach to group discussions (same content, but from a different perspective) and setting a climate for a stronger Social Presence.

    KL: It seems as though social presence is difficult to establish in the online learning environment. Garrison et al cite the presence of emotional expression, open communication, and group cohesion as indicators of a strong social presence. These indicators are inherent by their very nature in a face-to-face environment where, regardless of the facilitator, there is still a shared, social experience. To break Garrison’s model down further, autobiographical narratives, being encouraging, acknowledging others and encouraging collaboration seem more natural to a shared, face-to-face experience. The online version of this may be not unlike that meme about herding cats…..

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that arguably, a lack of cognitive presence in the online classroom is the weakest link to learning. In a model where ‘intersecting monologues’ prevail, it is hard to see how we can trigger Garrison’s four phases of critical education inquiry – triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution. To achieve the goal of applying new ideas and critically assessing solutions, a learning group needs to be exchanging information, discussing ambiguities, connecting ideas and creating solutions. This is where the excitement and learning lies, in my opinion.


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