The Community of Inquiry (COI) framework focuses on three major elements. Social, cognitive, and teacher provided learning. This moves away from the teaching style in which the teacher presented information that students would then use to complete their assignments. In the COI the students join the teacher in the teaching process by strengthening their learning through interaction. Students reflection on the material they are using and the varying opinions or interpretations of their fellow students requires cognition and mental flexibility. There is not one right answer, and this is a way for students to begin to understand this.
I am a librarian and teach research methods. Part of that involves understanding what an authoritative work in a field is. I would put students in small groups, assign them each a topic and ask them to find an authoritative work on a particular topic and then explain to me through further research and class discussion why their choice would be considered an authoritative work.
Another assignment could be developing an interactive web quest for junior high school students. I work primarily with future teachers. This would force the teachers to consider the social element in developing their assignments. Other students in the class would be required to attempt to use and offer suggestions as the development process progressed.
A third assignment would again be made up of small groups and would require students to pick a topic upon which to base an annotated bibliography of websites. As they progress through the assignment each student would have to justify why a resource would be included and each website would be evaluated by every member of the group through use of blogs or a discussion board.
Traditional assignments can be used in a web environment. However, they need to be modified always to incorporate the social component that is often a given in a classroom environment. For instance, students may write reports and the instructor may have other students read and critique reports after identifying information has been removed. The original author could then use or defend his or her stance based on the critique received. It forces the student to think more deeply about his or her assignment. It also forces the student-evaluator to think more critically when doing his or her own work.
Students often use similar topics and similar research in a classroom assignment. It might make sense in an online environment for the students to have an assignment prior to writing a research paper in which they seek out research articles using criteria supplied by the teacher. This would give students who might have a clearer understanding of what is needed by the teacher the opportunity to educate those who might be confused. It would allow the teacher to know, in advance of the research paper being written, that the students are on the right track.
Activities that involve writing and discussion are naturally applicable to web-based classes. Use of blogs, listserves, and discussion boards allow students to interact in much the same way that they would in class. Students giving presentations may face greater challenges in an online environment. However, Skype and similar programs allow students to make online presentations much more effectively.
Language classes in particular benefit from a web base because students can hear words as they should be said along with inputting the answers into their language assignment. Math is similar to languages in that it tends to be question and answer. Hyperlinks can lead to further explanation of complicated terms allowing the student to have a greater understanding of the material as they are working.
I have noticed in my own work that the strongest motivator tends to be when students can apply what they are learning to their work or their lives. This ties into the ACRS motivation model in that it captures attention and offers relevance to the students from the outset. An example of an assignment that might incorporate these elements would be a plagiarism web tutorial. The tutorial might start out with the student having inadvertently plagiarized being placed into some sort of detention center. The sound of the doors banging shut and the bolt of the lock would immediately capture the student’s attention. The possible consequences of plagiarism such as being left on the student steps with no way to get back in would alert the student to the relevance of the information they are about to received. The student would then be given information and asked questions based on that information. Hyperlinks would lead to definitions and more information as needed giving the student confidence in what he or she is learning. Ultimately, the student could feel satisfied that the information had been acquired and that he or she would not end up in school jail but rather need have no fear of inadvertently cheating on an assignment because he or she did not understand what constitutes plagiarism.
This type of assignment would have value for any research-based course. The Internet is tremendously useful in education, but many students have become accustomed to copying and pasting without understanding the need for appropriate attribution. This tutorial could also be visited more than once and there should be a table of contents at the beginning so that students need only visit the portion they need after they have done it the first time. I would also allow the students to pick an appropriate avatar to take them through the tutorial. There should be some gender and ethnicity options. Language options may also be helpful for EEL students who might have greater difficulty in understanding the terminology.