Reflections on a Community of Inquiry

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Photo by Trey Ratcliff / CC BY

I started studying IN22 this semester, so, I really did not know what to expect from studying online as part of a community of inquiry.  At the start of the semester, the concept was foreign to me and I was not sure how I would cope.  The last time I studied at university was from 2002 to 2006 and it was a totally different experience.  For IN22, I do not need to buy expensive textbooks, or travel into QUT to attend tutes and lectures, neither do I need to step foot in a library [update: actually, I have stepped foot in a library and will need to for the course.  I was referring to studying in a library].  Everything has been completed remotely in my own time.  I am pleased to say, that I adapted well and am satisfied with what I achieved.  I let my studies dominate my life for the last 14 weeks though.  Now that the semester is over, I am looking forward to bringing my life back into order again.  

In terms of the role I wanted to play in the IFN614 community at the beginning of the semester, it was to provide a cognitive presence.  I thought that social presence would come easily to me but a cognitive presence would be challenging.  

Of the four cognitive presence elements, triggering, exploring, integrating and resolving, I think that exploring became most prominent.  This is demonstrated by positive feedback I received at checkpoint 1 for my blog posts.  I made an effort to read widely and unpack what I learnt.  Triggering probably came second because I asked a number of questions to my peers when I commented on posts and during Twitter chats.  Integrating and resolving still needs some work.  I seemed to rely on others for these elements.

I believe I played an active role in the community as predicted.  I was proud of my blog posts.  They were my creations for all to see, and I was thrilled if anyone commented on them.  I also checked the IFN 614 site at least once a day to browse activity.  I was quite attached to it – the same kind of attachment I have with Facebook.

I made an effort to comment on my peers’ posts, and in the first few weeks, my comments were encouraging, demonstrating a social presence.  But once I realised I needed to comment in a way to contribute to the community conversation on the week’s topic, my comments became more sophisticated and I began asking questions to fill gaps in my understanding.    

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The decision on whose posts I commented on depended on availability of time mostly, and also if the post resonated with me in some way.  I also made an effort to comment on posts of people who commented on mine.  I resisted the urge to read and comment on my peers’ posts before I published my own because I thought it would influence my views.  Once the topic was unpacked in my own mind, I had the knowledge to comment in a meaningful way.

Twitter chats were a novel way to trigger conversation in the community about particular library programs, products and services.  At the start of the semester I had to create a Twitter account because I had never used Twitter before.  I knew of it, but never thought it could be used in an educational setting.  As predicted, I enjoyed using Twitter because it’s a fun way to communicate.  What’s more, it suits my conversation style – brief.  I tend not to have long conversations – a by-product of a fast-paced life.  The Twitter chats were a great way to connect with other people in the course who I might not otherwise have a chance to interact with.  In addition, it was a good way to ignite interest in the topic of the week.

I wonder what the chats would have been like if they had been scheduled mid-week rather than on Mondays?  I felt a bit like a fish out of water in some of the Twitter chats where I hadn’t done any reading on the topic beforehand, but by the end of the week I researched the topic deeply.  I would have contributed more if I was more prepared.

Other than during IFN 614 Twitter Chats, I have not tweeted much.  Instead I regularly scroll through my Twitter feed and like  tweets that stand out to me.  This behaviour is fairly similar to how I use Facebook, my preferred social media platform.  I refrain from posting because I am shy.

I think my key take-away from this unit is that the more you write, the easier it is.  Kate’s love of writing is inspiring and I took onboard her advice to write, write and write.  Assigning fortnightly critical reflection blog posts was a great way to get me writing about pertinent topics on library programs, products and services without getting bogged down by reference lists and unnatural scenarios.  The regular practice has made it easier for me to produce a sound piece of writing in good time.

Finally, on reflecting on the quality of my work for IFN 614, I am most pleased with my blog posts.  I put a lot of time and effort into them, and so far, this has paid off with good results.  My ability to research and unpack academic work has served me well, but I think that it is important that I find my own voice.  Because I have not worked in a library setting yet, it is difficult to go beyond the theory and present a strong viewpoint.  It seems that my reticence in expressing myself through social media, was also apparent in the IFN614 community.  The yogi in me favours the middle path.  Is that an excuse?  I’m not sure.  I’ll meditate on it…     

          

Belonging to a Learning Community

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Creative Commons Community Circle” by josephluis is licensed under CC0 1.0

In considering a learning community, I first wanted to define communityThe Cambridge online dictionary defines it as:

the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality

In my own experience, living in a particular area has not been a determining factor in the communities I belong to, however, shared interests and goals have.  I belong to a number of communities both online and offline.  My work organisation community is a state government agency where I work as a contact centre customer service advisor.  Also, my side passion of yoga – I am a qualified yoga teacher – has led to my creating a small community of like-minded followers through my weekly classes at a local community hall and online videos on YouTube.  In addition, I use social media on a regular basis to keep in touch with friends, family, teachers and peers.  Occasionally, there are opportunities to collaborate in my communities, but mostly, communication is used to build relationships, and to stay up to date with events and changes.

Now I find myself in a learning community where I must utilise online communication tools and collaborative approaches to learning.  Although I’ve worked in study groups before, the prospect of never actually meeting my classmates and teachers in the flesh is a new prospect.  Since enrolling, I obediently started using Twitter and Google+ to engage with teachers and students.  So what is a learning community in the digital age?  Garrison states:

In a technologically connected society, the community dimension is defined by the identity of the participants in the group, not the physical location. That is, participants identify with why they are members of the group – the purpose for the group’s existence. It is a place to connect with others who possess similar interests and goals. In short, community displays the characteristics of common purpose, interdependence, collaboration, communication, and trust.(from: Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry p.54)

A Community of Inquiry approach underpins the learning community.  It consists of three interdependent presences – cognitive, social and teaching.  These presences are equally important to successful learning outcomes.  As Garrison writes:

“…social presence is the soul of a community of inquiry, cognitive presence is the heart of a community of inquiry…teaching presence is the backbone” (from: Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry p. 71).

How can I flourish in this new type of community?

At my core, I’m a sensitive idealist.  The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator describes me as an ENFJ type – Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging type.  Thus far, my natural way of behaving in communities, both online and offline, is to be very tentative.  I take time to observe and get a feel for the people and environment before I feel comfortable to open up authentically.  Like many, I am frightened of ridicule, but I respond well to constructive feedback from those whose opinion I respect.  I may be perceived as quiet, shy and a bit awkward (I asked my 14-year-old tech savvy son what my online profile was like, and he responded with ‘awkward’, and said I behaved awkwardly with people I didn’t know very well).  A feeling of trust is very important for me to open up.  Despite being at times reserved, I can be assertive in seeking clarification, and ensuring others are heard and acknowledged.  In my professional communities, I am reliable and obedient.  I satisfy and sometimes exceed what is expected of me.

I believe I will play an active role in the IFN 614 learning community particularly in the area of social presence.  Supporting group cohesion and open communication will come naturally to me.  However, I will need to come out of my comfort zone to display a high level of cognitive presenceTriggering, exploring, integrating and resolving in an online public domain is a new approach for me.  Communication will be two-way and I’ll have to be prepared to have my beliefs and thoughts tested and pulled apart, which is a little disconcerting.  How will I be perceived?  Each comment creates my online reputation.  Will I be misconstrued?  Will I ever work in this town again?

But from a collaborative approach to learning and innovation, multiple perspectives are valuable (from: Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry p. 18).  The key is to build trust for open communication so that one point of view does not dominate.  Personally, I will need to muster the courage to bring something to the table and be prepared for it to be pulled apart and turned on its head.  Likewise, I’ll need to question and explore other people’s ideas.  It’s a little scary for this sensitive idealist, but one I’ll need to practice and get used to because  collaborative skills are essential for professional life today and the future.