Teaching Presence in the Community of Inquiry Framework

What does it mean to “teach” online?

What is “teaching presence”?

Faculty whose teaching experience has all occurred in a physical classroom may wonder what it means to “teach” in an online environment. One of the most common resistance points voiced by faculty about online teaching is that they enjoy the immediacy of discussion with students and can’t envision how they can teach, and students can learn, without it.

The Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, 2011) offers a framework for thinking about the core dimensions of effective online learning that can help demystify what it means to “teach” online. The model proposes a Venn diagram of three overlapping “presences” – cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. This teaching tip looks at the dimensions of teaching presence defined in the model.

Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer (2001) begin their foundational article about teaching presence in online learning using an analogy to teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. This comparison makes the point that, far from being an invisible and inactive actor, the online instructor plays a vital and multi-faceted role. This article defines teaching presence as: “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (p. 5). Each of these three functions, in turn, includes multiple activities.

Experienced online instructors know well that up-front course design takes on more prominence in online teaching than in much classroom teaching. Course design includes activities such as locating and building curricular materials, sequencing lessons, and writing assignment guidelines and evaluation criteria. In the most effective courses, these elements are presented in such a way that what Anderson et al. (2001) call the “grand design” of the course is evident.

Facilitation means regularly monitoring and commenting on students’ postings and work in order to maintain their interest, motivation, and engagement in the course. In this activity, the instructor plays an important role in modeling the type of contributions they want students to make.

In the third activity, directing cognitive process, the instructor “provides intellectual and scholarly leadership” (Anderson et al., 2001, p. 8). Many people have heard the adage that online instruction involves being a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” Taking on more of a guidance role does not mean that instructors should step back from offering their greater content knowledge to confirm understanding, help students correct misconceptions, and offer resources.

The bottom line of the conception of teaching presence is that faculty play a vital role in the learning of online students, both in the up-front planning of well-aligned learning experiences and the support of learning processes through ongoing communication.



There is a difference between quantity of communication and quality of communication in online teaching. Just as you would discourage your students from posting a discussion reply consisting only of “Great job!,” make sure your own communications make meaningful contributions to facilitating discussion or directing cognitive processes in the class.


Related references

Anderson, T., Rouke, L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17. Retrieved from https://olj.onlinelearningconsortium.org/index.php/olj/article/view/1875

Garrison, R. (2011). E-learning in the 21st century (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.