On December 3rd we had a special edition of the Didactic Design Discussion in the MIL course, since both Terry Anderson and Ross McKerlich visited us to talk about the Community of Inquiry (COI) model. 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. 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 online 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 3D virtual environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007). Anderson and McKerlich later invited Brad Eastmann and I to participate in the continued study of COI in 3D virtual worlds and as part of this study we record different educational experiences in SL to be used for later analysis.
Besides being an excellent tool with regard to analyzing interaction and communication the COI model, which consists of 3 different types of presence indicators (cognitive, social and teaching), can also be used as a heuristic tool for designing online educational experiences. The MIL students in this year’s course are all educators involved in course designing within blended learning and they all seemed to find the COI model interesting and relevant to their current work. What I appreciate about the model is the fact that it deals with presence and not immersion which otherwise seems to be the buzz word when studying 3D virtual worlds. Even though both presence and immersion have to do with the user experience, I do find there is an important difference between the two concepts. Based on the four research cycles I’ve completed in my PhD project so far, my experience is that all users achieve a sense of presence when they enter a virtual environment like SL, which I think above all has to do with the avatar and its ability to move around and meet other avatars, communicate and interact in real time. It is, however not my impression that all users in these types of environments achieve the sense of immersion – at least not if immersion is defined by a sense of “willing suspension of disbelief” as proposed by Dede. 2005 among others. An important part of this discussion is of course how one chooses to define the concepts and since I intend to use both presence and immersion in my own model this is something I’ll return to.
After the presentation, McKerlich introduced to our survey related to the COI study and we went on to use The Opinionater, which once again proved its worth as a great tool for initiating discussions.