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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

COI + UDL = Designing Utopia for Online Learning

Lisa Webb (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Yin Kreher (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Additional Authors
Phil Edwards (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Session Information
November 21, 2013 - 1:15pm
Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Extended Information Session
Australia 3
Session Duration: 
80 Minutes
Information Session 9 & 10 (combined)

This presentation will explore the intersection of Disability and the Community of Inquiry Model in online education.

Extended Abstract

Disability Studies as a field of inquiry has shifted the conversation about disability from a medical to a social model. Over the last thirty years, the field of disability studies has developed a narrative of inclusion and sought to define disability as cultural identity rather than as deficit or deviance. Proponents of this reframing of disability contend that it is societies and systems that are disabled, rather than the person.

Education systems are mandated to operate under the federal guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These systems tend to focus on compliance with the law regarding access, and therefore persons with disabilities are viewed through the lens of the medical model of disability. Individuals with disabilities in an educational context are often perceived as a minority group. They are required to disclose their disability in order to receive equal access to their academic programs.

In an online learning environment, Randy Garrison's Community of Inquiry (COI) theoretical framework for educational experiences (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000) is a process model that seeks to explain in an elegant way the complexity of elements that create and sustain effective online learning. This model has been referenced in numerous publications (Garrison, 2011). It highlights three constituting elements of e-learning: social, cognitive and teaching presence. Each component is dependent upon the other to create a meaningful educational experience.

The COI framework assumes that learning takes place when community, leading to interactions, is present. However, without access to information, there can be no interactions and hence, either limited or no community if learners cannot access the information. The dynamic relationships in a COI depend on access and equity to information. Every individual contributes to the richness of the educational experience in a COI.

The COI framework also raises certain challenges about learning effectiveness in cases where learners with disabilities choose not to self-identify their conditions. Also, if course designers fail to implement UDL principles from the beginning, learners with disabilities may be unintentionally excluded from the online community.

This presentation seeks to foster discussion on:

  • some challenges that may arise in using the COI framework alone as a guide for course design and how using it with the UDL guidelines will ensure greater accessibility in online learning
  • the significance of using the COI framework together with the UDL framework as a more thorough heuristic for the design and development of accessible online courses
  • suggestions for further analysis and research using the COI and UDL frameworks.

The COI framework provides a way for students and teachers with disabilities to engage fully in the online educational experience. It shifts the dialogue about access from the medical model of disability (i.e., "I am a student with a disability who needs ... ) to inclusion in the COI based on a social model of disability. Through the lens of the COI framework, a learner can assume a participatory stance through opportunities to interact effectively within a learning community. The premise of the COI framework (Garrison, 2011) is that a community of learners is critical in fostering a meaningful educational experience where higher-order learning is a goal. The three constituting elements (three types of presence) of the COI framework provide a way of thinking about and designing online instruction that parallels the three primary principles of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The COI framework is thus significant as a conceptual tool for use together with the UDL framework to craft meaningful educational experiences that support an inclusive online learning environment.

Generating social, cognitive and teaching presence that support dialogic interactions and meaningful reflection invites both the learner and instructor to negotiate and co-construct their online identities and meaning-making. This involves the learner (and vice versa, the instructor) to consider various means of representing ideas (namely, the first UDL principle) in order to select the most appropriate way to display information about self and others. It also implies that thoughtful consideration must be made to offer the learner multiple means to take action, express himself/herself and to engage with others (second and third UDL principles). For instance, in the co-construction of knowledge, how will participants (not just the instructor) in a COI craft their teaching presence -- direct, design and facilitate instruction -- to optimize learning outcomes and shape constructive conversations? What learning design options offer the best ways for learners to navigate and access information for critical engagement in a largely non-verbal learning community? What technologies will support collaboration in such a way that learners can co-create and sustain meaning (cognitive presence) and also experience a sense of self-expression and camaraderie (social presence)?

Presenters will use the COI categories and indicators (Table 3.1, Garrison, 2011, p. 25) and pose design/research questions for inclusive and accessible instruction that aligns with UDL principles.

Participants will engage in activities that simulate some of the typical challenges that students with physical and/or sensory disabilities encounter in online courses and reflect on these experiences in the context of the COI framework.