Community of Inquiry (COI) in Virtual Worlds study

Early this spring Ross McKerlich, Terry Anderson & Brad Eastman invited me to participate in a research study on the usefulness of the Community of Inquiry (COI) model as evaluation tool in virtual worlds. Originally the COI model was developed in the late 1990’ies as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walther Archer:

Central to the study introduced here is a model of community inquiry that constitutes three elements essential to an educational transaction – cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Indicators (key words/phrases) for each of the three elements emerged from the analysis of computer conferencing transcripts. The indicators described represent a template or tool for researchers to analyze written transcripts as well as a guide to educators for the optimal use of computer conferencing as a medium to facilitate an educational transaction.

communitymodel_small(COI website)

The COI model was developed as part of a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities research funded project entitled “A Study of the Characteristics and Qualities of Text-Based Computer Conferencing for Educational Purposes”. Further details on that project, including papers describing the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the model can be found on the COI website.

Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry Anderson, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new immersive environments such as the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Together with McKerlich Anderson conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007 and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in immersive environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007).  Not unexpectedly, they did however also find that some adjustments would be appropriate – e.g. extending categories demonstrating social presence. This 2007 study did not allow for the authors to examine methodological issues such as validation deeply. Furthermore McKerlich and Anderson found the phenomenological experience of both learners and teachers would be worth further investigation.

Based on these preliminary findings, McKerlich and Anderson now together with Brad Eastman have initiated a new more quantitative oriented study – and this is also the study I’ve been invited to participate in. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to contribute with very much so far due to a longer personal leave of absence from my work in general.  Nevertheless, during my absence they have successfully finished the work on developing an evaluation tool – in the shape of a survey intended for students with educational experience in immersive environments – based on original and new indicators of respectively social, cognitive and teaching presence.  The tool was publicly launched last week on several mailing lists relevant for educators using immersive worlds and the data have started to accumulate. We would of course like as many answers as possible though, so if this has caught your interest please have a look at the survey here.

Further down the line we’ll start processing the data and evaluate the tool – also by conducting in-world observations. Participation in this kind of study is quite exciting but also very challenging for me coming from a highly qualitative oriented research background. But I’m also pretty sure that I’ll learn a lot and that we’ll have some interesting discussions :-)


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