Using MOOCs to Measure Communities of Inquiry


Rob Kadel
Georgia Institute of Technology, Asst. Dir., Research in Education Innovation

Steve Harmon
Georgia Tech Professional Education, Assoc. Dean for Research


Researchers at Georgia Tech administered the Community of Inquiry instrument (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000) in three engineering MOOCs in late 2016. The Community of Inquiry consists of three factors: Teaching Presence, Social Presence, and Cognitive Presence. Teaching Presence and Cognitive Presence were both rated fairly highly in these courses (averages of about 4 on a scale from 1 to 5 for each of 34 individual items). However, the average response to nine items measuring Social Presence was approximately 3.6. This stands to reason, because outside of discussion forums largely manned by other learners, there is not much opportunity to socialize in these MOOCs.

Additionally, Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer (2001) identified three sub-factors of Teaching Presence: Design and Organization, Facilitating Discourse, and Director Instruction. In a factor analysis of the survey data, Direct Instruction was noticeably missing in the results. However, it can be argued that in a MOOC, there is no direct instruction consistent with Anderson et al.’s (2001) description. There, the authors note that direct instruction relies upon the subject matter expert by “interjecting comments, referring students to information resources, and organizing activities that allow the students to construct the content in their own minds and personal contexts” (p.9). In a MOOC, knowledge is transferred through video instruction, but the active focusing, summarizing, diagnosing of misconceptions, etc. (p.10) are absent. This presentation will also include a brief overview of how to use Confirmatory Factor Analysis when analyzing survey data.

Despite the seemingly dry nature of these statistical analyses, this lively and engaging presentation will explore ideas relevant both to researchers and practitioners. After reviewing the results of an analysis of several hundred survey responses, we consider ways MOOCs can be enhanced to improve Social Presence and Direct Instruction. The goal for each of these strategies is to increase retention in MOOCs and thereby contribute to learner success.

We are exploring these kinds of interventions at Georgia Tech and will share in a discussion of their challenges and benefits with conference participants. Attendees will be encouraged to share their own ideas for improving social and teaching presence in online courses.


Dr. Rob Kadel is Assistant Director for Research in Education Innovation with the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. His research spans nearly 20 years, including evaluating the effectiveness of learning technologies at both the K-12 and higher ed. levels. Rob brings to C21U research foci in online pedagogy and effective practices, alternative learning spaces, learning analytics, and tools/strategies to help close the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students. He has presented both nationally and internationally on cutting-edge learning technologies and managing grants, programs, and research in their use. Rob held faculty positions at Penn State University and Johns Hopkins University prior to running his own educational technology research consulting firm for seven years. He continues to teach online courses in the sociology of education, criminology, and juvenile delinquency for the University of Colorado Denver. Rob earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Emory University in 1998.