Supporting a community of enquiry

Steph Comley

Increasingly we are seeing courses delivered through a variety of methods; campus based, distance learning and various blended approaches in between. Regardless of the type of delivery we hope to enable active engagement from students and to develop a community of enquiry. Typically a community of enquiry will see both students and staff collaborating, sharing ideas and working together to increase understanding.

To achieve this we consider how students can bring their own relevant knowledge and experiences to the course, the activities or tools that can be used to create a learning community and how these tools are embedded into the course and made accessible. But more important than the tools themselves, are the activities they support.

Through a combination of activities, we can enhance the learning experience from being a passive one (think ‘read, watch, listen, read again, listen’) to an active model that encourages acquisition; read, watch, listen followed by collaboration, discussion, investigation, practice or production (this is based on Diana Laurillard's work at the Institute of Education). That’s not to say that each of the elements will occur in every session or topic, just that there is a good balance across a series of weeks/sessions.

Creating a balanced curriculum containing all of these elements could be challenging, however Technology Enhanced and Blended Learning allows for a greater level of flexibility, for both staff and students. In particular, being creative with collaborative technologies can be an effective way to build a community of enquiry, promote knowledge sharing, allow for student led activities and for students to manage their own learning. From a practical point of view collaborative tools can provide access to resources and learning at a time and pace that suits an individual. This might be using shared documents through Office365 or Google Drive, contributing to shared spaces such as forums on the learning environment or using an online tool such as Padlet.

However you access your course (as a student) or develop your curriculum (as a member of staff) consider how you can contribute towards supporting the community of enquiry, and how educational technologies may aid you.