A consistent theme in my work on blended learning is shifting students from passive consumers in the classroom to active, engaged members of a learning community. The Community of Inquiry framework can help teachers blending online and offline work to cultivate a blended classroom characterized by respect, dialogue, inquiry, and exploration.
Too often classrooms are spaces where kids do not enjoy the flexibility or freedom to ask questions about topics or issues that capture their interest and pursue exploration that may extend beyond the boundaries of a particular subject area. Instead of allowing students to engage in the messy business of asking questions, seeking answers, and understanding complex problems, education focuses on presenting the answers to questions and solutions to problems for kids to absorb and retain. However, if the student has not played an active role in asking questions or investigating topics, they are unlikely to be interested in or motivated to remember the “answer.”
Cultivating a Community of Inquiry both on and offline can help students learn how to think independently, imaginatively, and resourcefully. There are three overlapping elements of the Community of Inquiry framework: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.
Developing a Community of Inquiry in a blended classroom can function to:
- leverage student curiosity.
- encourage exploration and investigation.
- help students to appreciate the interconnectedness of the various subjects.
- develop the ability to communicate and collaborate both on and offline.
- give students more agency and autonomy to enhance intrinsic motivation.
- build meaningful relationships among students.
- drive deeper thinking about topics, issues, and problems.
- shift students from a passive to an active role in the classroom.
Ultimately, classrooms should be spaces where students develop the skills necessary to explore and understand their world. They must practice approaching unfamiliar concepts and situations to make sense of them. Using the Community of Inquiry framework provides blended teachers with a structure they can use to design learning experiences that combine the best elements of online and offline learning and allow students to drive that learning.