Critical Review of Origins and Aims of the Concept of a Community of Enquiry

Critical Review of Origins and Aims of the Concept of a Community of Enquiry

Critical Review of Origins and Aims of the Concept of a Community of Enquiry

An education Community of Enquiry (CofE) is an academic model of assessment that employs various educational and social aspects of a learning environment to bring out issues in a learning system. According to Lipman (2003, p20), various tools of assessment and analysis are incorporated in the procedure including “…questioning, reasoning, connecting, deliberating, challenging and delivering problem solving techniques…” According to the author, the CofE seeks to identify various thinking enhancement procedures that education systems ought to introduce to the students. As such, the teaching roles go beyond limited syllabus coverage to incorporate nurturing thinking and creative skills to the students. At my workplace, the limited emphasis on pedagogy and other teaching experience related process may greatly compromise the imparting of appropriate critiquing skills.

In light of the approach employed by the specific community, the end product of the analysis is a consultative, collaborative and constructive picture of the situation of education factors. According to the author, the idea of formulating such an analysis might have been the idea of the 19th century science philosopher known as Charles Sanders Pierce. In its original format, the idea was developed for the scientists’ community but modification to fit in other fields of interests such as education is a tenable and practical extrapolation. Earliest attempts to incorporate the education system of the idea were instituted by educationist John Dewey (Lipman, 2003). “Dewey was convinced that education had failed because it was guilty… Just as scientists apply scientific method to the exploration of problematic situations so students should do the same if they are ever to learn to think for themselves,” (Lipman 2003, p20).

The model manifests a clear attempt to involve two elements of the human society that hold the key to finding a challenge and designing a solution for the same in any aspect of its organisation. These elements are “community” and “Enquiry” which literary implies that the community’s aspect in question has a presenting challenge that can be resolved by forming an Enquiry that thoroughly interrogates the underlying factors causing the challenge. Based from the original applications, education applications can be designed to incorporate certain tenets of academic settings which employ the social constructs of learning and education.

It therefore follows that the aims of the community of Enquiry are to engage the education experience in a system in a consultative and reflective approach to identify its keeping in touch with basic requirements of learning. According to Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC) (2007, p1), the links that the CofE endeavours to establish include presence of elements of social, cognitive and teaching media which ensure an all rounded learning experience. TLC further enumerates the aims of the CofE to include identification of the necessary input that encourages education from the involved stakeholders. Among the necessary requirements that the learning experience should have include; elements of a supportive discourse, a conducive environment as well as appropriate content in the education content. A CofE would therefore explore the delivery mechanisms for the education material that the education system designs in advance.

Typical Structure Outline, Principles and Practices in Supporting Learning in a Community of Enquiry

Using the above foundational explanations of the origin and aims of the CofE concept, the basic structure can be formulated to include three main areas of emphasis. As illustrated below in Figure 1, besides the main education experience aspects, the appropriate teacher’s contribution can be formulated easily from the basic necessities of thinking-enhancing learning and teaching experience. The teacher is expected to impart certain thinking attributes from content delivery and student participation to classroom organisation. To capture the most important learning areas which are social, teaching and cognitive aspects of the Education Experience (E.E), the design takes care of the main learning needs of an education system. In Figure 1 below, the communication medium developed to highlight the various trajectories involved in the learning process are the main design pillars from which the model is formulated. From the design, creation of a relational necessity plan generates the appropriate requirements of the overlapping stakeholders’ input. These inputs so generated are highlighted below Figure 1. The Teaching and Learning Centre explains that the social presence involves the actual communication in a free manner such that there is some level of trust between the participants and the assessment community team.

Individual personalities are usually taken care of by the community carrying out the assessment to find out how social aspects are manifested in the system teaching presence usually identifies if the participants actually make meaning out of the learning obtained from the education system and in what ways. Cognitive presence is assessed in the participating class by establishing if the learnt outcomes can be used to confirm the obtained meaning of the education objectives (Anderson, Archer and Garrison 2000, p133). During these activities, the CofE creates a connection to the effectiveness of the facilitator, usually making an input towards improvement of teacher-student experiences. According to Baumfield’s sentiments on CofE, “…the teacher’s main role is that of a cultivator of judgement who transcends rather than rejects right-wrong answers in the sense of caring more for the process of inquiry itself than the answer that might right of wrong at a given time,” (2003, p176). The development of a critical mentality on education and the learning process on students is the ultimate goal of the teacher under the CofE model.

Figure 1: Adopted from Teaching and Learning Centre, 2007.

1647825151765Teaching Presence

Teaching Presence









2819400165100Cognitive Presence

Cognitive Presence

1143000231775Social Presence

Social Presence

The above design is designed in such a reflective mode that will facilitate the identification of the three basic learning areas flanked by the below explained inputs from the stakeholders. CofE establishes the existence of the communication medium that facilitates manifestation of the three most important elements in learning as highlighted in the model contained in Figure 1 above. This CofE model“…constitutes three elements essential to an educational experience: Cognitive Presence, Social Presence and Teaching Presence…” (Teaching and Learning Centre, 2007).

Inputs in segment 1: setting up a conducive environment for learning in terms of social support from the teaching staff. Teacher student relations should facilitate delivery of education content in a flowing manner. Inputs in segment 2: supportive discourse targeting cognitive growth for the students should be facilitated by social practices. Inputs in segment 3: the effective syllabi should facilitate learning by designing it in a manner likely to encompass relevant and appropriate content. In almost every environment, the main pillars of leaning are expected to be prevailing in all aspects of the teacher, student and learning environment interactions. According to Ling (2007), even higher learning scenario is a representation of the same constructs of education requirements. “…successful higher education experience is held to be supported by the presence and interaction of the elements of cognitive, social and teaching presences,” Ling (2007, p154).

In the education sector, the work environment with respect to the interaction it would make with the model of CofE, there are several issues that come into play. Perhaps the most important aspect of the learning environment is the social interaction that the teaching and learning experiences must come to terms with, in the process of establishing appropriate relationships between the teachers and the students. The universality of the school environment ensures that the constructs of the CofE model cut across the divide to translate to similar conditions for all the cases (Lipman 2003). “…private and public institutions in our society… the school epitomises the fusion of the two… is the manufacturer of the society of the future,” (Lipman 2003, p1). According to the author, the need for educators to employ critical thinking in the manner in which they operate the policy formulation for the sector is very important for the integrity of the society that has various challenges that need critical solving approach. Judgement for the formulation of the appropriate policies directly finds strength in a clear dissection of the social perspective of the sector. Due to the sensitivity of the social impact of the working environment in any organisation, human resources can only achieve the best results if an analysis of the enabling factors is performed in advance. From such an analysis, the management and leadership of the organisation can then formulate such policies that would facilitate maximum performance.

At our workplace, we have little communication with a management structure that allows and facilitates the use of community of enquiry within the education system. Policy deficiency regarding the staff contributions to debate that can enable effective CofE is a huge hindrance on the realisation of a working CofE. Besides, there is lack of cooperation from the management since there is a general exclusion of the staff in policy formulation platforms that can put CofE in place. A tendency in the management to avoid issues on applicability of CofE in the college has crippled any chance of realising such cooperation from the staff and the management. In my view, it is appropriate that the management team becomes aware of the need to formulate policies that will facilitate involvement of CofE at the workplace, in order to develop effective teaching and learning experiences for teachers and students. Colleges and institutions of higher learning are particularly likely to make much impact into the learning outcomes that students obtain as they get closer to the professional world.

The CofE within my workplace is something that is generally not encouraged by management or senior staff. Apparently, this is also the case with the prison department and staff within its education department (teachers). CofE was implemented during the stage of redundancies and used as a tool to include staff in the so called discussions in redeployment, questions were asked in meetings from the information given from discussion, but this has since ceased. From such a weak approach in the integration of CofE at the workplace, it remains an uphill task towards establishment of an understanding between the various stakeholders. A works council is in place in prisons around some areas of the country through the college but not yet in the NW and NE regions. But our targets in the entire campaign must include the entire country for significant success to be realised.

Managers are not aware of this but as the Union Learning Representative, my role is to encourage participation from teaching staff and management and cascaded down, the forum is now held by deputy managers and excludes the teaching staff. In future, we are hopeful that through negotiations, the teaching staff will find the necessary involvement and support from the management, perhaps even integrating their views in policy formulation. The CofE approach that I use for my education induction group has enabled learners to ask questions and have a better understanding of their role in education and the system in which they have to serve their sentence. Using the success of the induction group, I remain hopeful that we will be able to convince the management team to assist in rolling out a plan to incorporate the practice across the prisons department across the country.

Reflective thinking as involved in CofE helps in designing a social setting that takes into consideration all the factors that an optimum environment of performance would created. By formulating a social framework where both the teachers and students relate appropriately to promote free interactions, education objectives will be achieved. In contemplation of the underlying social factors, reflective thinking in the education environment would assist the participants to avoid bias and self deception regarding their role in effective communication backed by effective social practices (Lipman, 2003). “…more reflective, and in the long run it is the more excellent form of thinking… there must be continual awareness of the importance of the methodology of such inquiry all the while that matters of substance are being discussed,” (Lipman 2003, p26). An example of a social setting challenge that the education system would identify with the effective CofE engagement is lack of freedom of communication between the students and the teachers (Anderson, Archer and Garrison 2000, p13). This can be facilitated by identifying areas of weaknesses that compromise the delivery of the teacher’s input and its conversion into a positive learning experience.

Communication for instance can be analysed from various angles to determine how effective an education system is in terms of communication. In areas such as the correctional departments, learning could be compromised due to the lack of a free communication and expression. After analysing the real problems occasioned by the poor communication, the CofE will deliberate possible practices that will enhance institutional policy formulation to boost the necessary element in communication and relations. It will be identified for instance that with improved communication, students can easily approach the teachers in a consultative manner where grave challenges are identified and corrected thus improving individual performance of the students. Other supporting elements such as expression and a platform of enquiring for various educational matters by the student should be facilitated.

Pedagogy approaches at our work place are not well developed or outlined, which makes this study appropriate for recommendation to the relevant authorities. In light of the advantages of the application of teacher’s experience enhancement and the positive impact it has on learners, there is a lot of input that needs to be invested at the prisons education department policies. For the teachers and the administrators in the education system, social interactions are necessary in alleviation of teacher work-burnouts. Where the pressure to deliver is massively launched against the teacher who does not have the necessary mechanics, it is obviously difficult to deliver. It is therefore a policy formulation level issue to ensure that the appropriate education experience exists between the teachers and the students (Moseley 2005). The author reckons that it is possible to develop an “…effective pedagogy for all learners depending on experimental learning through participation in enquiry as well as from philosophical study of reasoning…” (Moseley 2005, p163).

According to Citric Technology (2010, p1) Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a powerful tool employed to initiate children to think critically and deeply. It is usually applied to facilitate creation of helpful critiquing approach for appropriate learning in the young brains from their early education stages (Dewey 1902, p12). Level One Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) training provides a consultative model that enables training children to think openly and in a diverse way. Alongside this training, there is another type of training called Independent Thinking that facilitate the implementation of the philosophy. Its application assists in the development of relevant CofE outcomes that a model education system must target to achieve, including those included in the model highlighted by Teaching and Learning Centre (2007).

In the initial stage of the assessment, the community is composed for interrogation of the participating group. Upon formulation of the assessment program highlighting each of the main areas, the organisation is internalised with respect to the structure. Under establishment of the teaching presence, instruction design may be visited to assess the issues involved such as the curriculum, the teaching design methods, teaching targets, standards and scaffolding. Another development of teaching that can be visited for analysis is how discourse is facilitated in the teaching and content delivery (Mezirow and Taylor, 2009 p34). The participants must also be assessed for elements of direct instruction that the systems employs to facilitate direct and simple learning.

With regard to assessment of the cognitive presence, the CofE will be highlighting areas such as triggering event for cognitive learning, such puzzlement in delivered content as well as assistance for collaborative learning. The education system should be assessed for its facilitation of explorative learning such as application of a variety of delivery tools for education content, exchange of information among students and teachers, availability of platforms to forward suggestions in the classroom, brainstorming sessions and creative drawing of conclusions. In the same approach for cognitive assessment, the system will be analysed on its keeping in touch with integration factors such as coherence of ideas, creative creation of solutions and connecting them with reflection and interaction (Van Schie 2008, p1). Since the CofE involves facilitation of a creative and critical approach that nurtures thinking in the learning procedure, students should have an environment that favours their understanding of the basic learning expectations. Having understood the basics, it is possible for the students to handle more complex tasks outsides the limited scope of the syllabus and teaching packages. In light of these elements under the CofE, my workplace needs certain teaching insights to be introduced, alongside a pedagogy approach that will help teachers develop the right attitude in delivery of education content.

Emotional expression such as humour and self disclosure and emoticons application in the learning experience will be assessed. Group cohesion and its sustainability will be assessed since the learning experience is a socially defined process. Application of tools such as asking, referring, agreement, complimenting, quoting, continuing threads and entertaining different arguments will imply the level of social intuition imparted by the system. In light of such a system analysis, open communication and how the system entertains its usage are also determined. Elements of communication such as salutation, vocatives and inclusion will determine the amount of communication freedom that the learners have in the system. It must be established if there are elements of ownership of space and presence of safety from the developed culture and style of communication. A winning experience must demonstrate.

Adopting the Independent Thinking Limited approach featured by Citric Technology (2010, p1), an example set of questions for use in P4C known as Thucks is formulated. As contained in Appendix 1, the Thucks questions included for stimulation of critical thinking are from a wide range of topics to provoke deep thinking.


Anderson, T. & Garrison, D. R. (2003) E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. London, UK: Routledge Publishers

Anderson, T., Archer, W. & Garrison, D., (2000) “Critical Enquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education,” Internet and Higher Education, vol. 2 no. 2-3 pp.87–105

Anderson, T., Archer, W. & Garrison, D., (2000) “Critical Enquiry In A Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education,” Internet and Higher Education, vol. 11 no. 2 pp.1-14

Baumfield, V. (2003) “Democratic RE. Preparing Young People for Citizenship,” British Journal of Religious Education, vol. 25 no. 3 pp.173-184

Citric Technology, (2010) “Philosophy for Children,” [online] Independent Thinking Ltd. Available from: <> [accessed 3 May 2011]

Dewey, J. (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago, IL; University of Chicago Press.

Ling, L. H. (2007) “ HYPERLINK “” Community of Enquiry in an Online Undergraduate Information Technology Course,” Journal of Information Technology Education, vol. 6 no.1 p.153-168

Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in Education. (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mezirow, J. & Taylor, E. W. (2009) Transformative learning in practice: insights from community, workplace and higher education. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons

Moseley, D. (2005) Frameworks for thinking: a handbook for teaching and learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Teaching and Learning Centre, (2007) Community of Inquiry [online] <> [accessed 25 May 2011]

Van Schie, J. (2008) “The Idea is that Different Presences are Described in a More Concrete Way when Moving Away From the Kernel,” [online] Available from <> [accessed 3 May 2011]

Appendix 1

Is there more future or past?

Is black a colour?

If I switch the lights off does the wall change colour?

Can you cast a shadow into a dark room?

In a dark room what does a mirror reflect?

Can you touch the wind?

Can you touch a rainbow?

Is a broken down car parked?

Is there more happiness or sadness in the world?

Can you feel happy and sad at the same time?

If I read a comic in a shop without paying for it is that stealing?

If I swap your pen for one exactly the same without telling you is that stealing?

If I pick up your pen by mistake and put it in my bag is it stealing?

If you ask me if I have your pen and I say no because I don’t think I have, is that lying?

If we borrow every single book from a library is it still a library?

If we move the entire school and everything and everybody in it to Africa would it still be the same school?

If we took the school building and moved it to the other side of town but left the people and things exactly where they were, where would the school be?

Does lined paper weigh more than blank paper?

Is it ever OK to cheat?

Was Perseus a cheat in the labyrinth?

(P4C adopted from