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#EDUC90970 Reflection 3 – What makes a theory actionable and a CoI work?

Thanks to Sam Emmanuel John’s comments on my Reflection 2. In this Post, I will share some thoughts inspired by his comments before sharing some personal experience with a Community of Inquiry. The next two paragraphs make a brief discussion about ‘actionable knowledge’ (Argyris 2003). The last two paragraphs make a reflection on my CoI experience.

Sam’s comments expressed his observation that the teacher’s role is overstated in the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Garison et al, 2000). I suppose this impression was particularly made by my tips of action for the teachers in the Post. This brings out an important issue with the CoI framework (Garison et al, 2000) as well as its modified version that Sam recommended to me in his comments (Shea et al, 2014): Both frameworks are framing an ad hoc phenomenon of ‘learning’ and the kind of community that makes it happen through abstract observation. They have been very ambiguous on the concept of ‘who’. Who are the actors in this theory and what are they supposed to do for whose benefit? Without clarification and consistency on the specific actor’s role, the theories are not yet ‘actionable’. 

To make a learning theory actionable, we need to think from an actor’s perspective. We need to ask first of all, “Who is the theorist?” Is he putting himself in the shoes of the teacher? Or is he putting himself in the shoes of the learner? If he is only playing the role of an external observer to make a framework to structure his own observation of a phenomenon, then the theory is yet to be further developed to be useful to practice.  Taking from here, we may see the CoI framework by Garison et al (2000) is easier to be translated into an actionable theory for the teachers. It tells what a teacher can do and should do to make a CoI effective for students’ learning. While its modified version by Shea et al (2014) replaced the ‘social presence’ dimension of the CoI framework into a ‘learning presence’ dimension and made the CoI’s social presence a tacit dimension behind all the three presences (teaching, leaning, cognitive) to stress the effect of ‘learning agency’. This framework is easier to be translated into an actionable theory for the learners. It tells what a student can do and should do to make the most of a learning community for his/her own effective learning. 

Back to years and years and years ago I found myself in a typical CoI, when I was a research student getting involved in Prof. A’s communities of researchers. The CoI involved around ten senior and junior researchers, all on their learning journeys on digital collaborative learning technologies. We held weekly research meetings, but not for working on any research project. It was a community of inquiry in which each of us updated our own research, progress, outcomes, new discoveries, challenges and sometimes personal career issues. The other members tried to provide information, advice and handy help in and out of the meetings. From time to time we were joined by overseas visitors to discuss a presentation or try out some new devices for fun (and for learning). When someone completed a draft paper, the draft was circulated in the CoI, all the other members tried to give comments from major issues on data and structure to minor issues of picking a typo. When a major conference was near, the research meeting would be a rehearsal meeting. Members would give comments from details of the slides to manners of speaking. After many years, people out of that community are still life-long friends, which I think largely owned to Prof. A’s leadership which set a climate of honesty and open sharing. 

I shall draw a distinction here: the effective teacher of a functioning CoI is a leader, not an administrator. He led by his own intellectual brilliance, a genuine curiosity into new knowledge discovery and expertise in the content. A CoI has not been breathed into a soul if the teacher is simply doing administration to technically formulate a community. I will discuss more details in next post.


Argyris, C. 2003. Actionable knowledge. In: Tsoukas, H. & Knudsen, C. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory. Oxford University Press.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87−105.

Shea, P., Hayes, S., Uzuner-Smith, S., Gozza-Cohen, M., Vickers, J., & Bidjeranof, T. (2014). Reconceptualizing the community of inquiry framework: An exploratory analysis. The Internet and Higher Education, 23, 9-17.


Published by Andrea O'Learning

student #EDUC90970 Facilitating Online Learning. This blog is part of my assignment and personally an experiment to try out if I would like to run a public blog.

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