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Designing Question Prompts Using Practical Inquiry Model (PIM) to Facilitate Cognitive Presence in Online Discussions

Ayesha Sadaf (Ball State University, USA)
Larisa Olesova (George Mason University, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 1:30pm
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 7

This presentation will discuss results of study investigating the impact of question prompts designed with Practical Inquiry Model on students' cognitive presence in online discussions.

Extended Abstract

This study was guided by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer's (2001) definition of cognitive presence and practical inquiry model (PIM). The PIM includes the following phases of cognitive presence (1) Triggering event- become aware of a problem; (2) Exploration- explore a problem by searching/offering information; (3) Integration- integration of ideas and construction of possible solution, and (4) Resolution- resolution of a problem by discovering and justifying specific solution.
Achieving high levels of cognitive presence is often the goal of online discussions. However, the majority of students' discussion posts still reflect lower levels of cognitive presence (Rourke & Kanuka, 2009). It could be caused by the nature of the task and the wording of the question prompts (McLoughlin & Mynard, 2009). But simply wording question prompts in relation to the level of cognitive presence cannot guarantee that students can achieve higher levels learning. This study examined whether question prompts designed with the PIM can help students achieve higher levels of cognitive presence in comparison when questions prompts designed as regular questions or so-called "playground" (PG) questions.

1. To what extend question prompts based on the PIM, compared to the PG question prompts, lead to the highest levels of cognitive presence integration and resolution in online discussions?
2. Is there a difference in the overall cognitive presence facilitated by prompts based on the PIM and the PG questions?
3. Is there a difference in the levels cognitive presence (triggering, exploration, integration, and resolution) in the discussions facilitated by prompts based on the PIM and the PG questions?

The participants included 24 graduate students (9 males and 15 females) enrolled in a 16 week course in fall 2014. This study used a mixed methods research design. Qualitative data were collected from online discussions (4 of 8) at the beginning of the course. The data were coded using the content analysis based on Garrison et al.'s (2000) coding procedure which involved: (1) segmenting discussion transcripts into meaningful units, (2) classifying the units into one of the four phases of cognitive presence and (3) summing the frequency of units in each phase. When qualitative data were transformed into frequencies, descriptive and non-parametric statistics were applied to make comparisons between the levels of cognitive presence generated by the PIM and the PG questions. Out of total 599 coded segments, 355 segments were in response to the PIM questions and 244 were in response to the PG questions.
PG questions asked to analyze the course material/concepts and synthesize information to address the question. The PIM questions asked to solve the case. At the beginning of the week, the students answer the two questions representing triggering and exploration phases. Then, students made one comment on other students' post by the mid of the week. At the second half of the week, students answered the last two questions representing integration and resolution phases and made one comment on other student's post by the end of the week.

RQ#1: The comparison between the two types of questions revealed differences in percentage of segments within each level (see Table 1). The PIM resulted in higher percentage of segments within integration (34%) and resolution (7%), as compared to the PG question. Looking at the individual learning outcomes, more than half of the students' (15 of 24) reached the resolution in the two discussions based on the PIM questions, whereas, only two students' responses achieved the resolution level in discussions based on the PG questions.

RQ#2: A non-parametric Friedman test showed a significant difference in the overall levels of cognitive presence across all four discussions, ?_ (3, n=24) = 33.04, p = .000. There was an increase in the levels of cognitive presence from week 1 of PG#1 (Md=4.00) to week 2 of PIM#1 (Md=5.00) and to week 3 of PIM#2 (Md=9.00). However, there was a decrease in week 4 of PG#2 (Md=5.00) showing that the PIM question prompts helped increase students' level of cognitive presence in the discussions compared to the PG question prompts. The post-hoc analysis with the Wilcoxon signed-rank test with a Bonferroni correction indicated that student responses to the PIM question prompts resulted in significantly higher levels of cognitive presence than the PG question prompts.

RQ#3: Our examination revealed significant differences between discussions by levels of cognitive presence including triggering, exploration, integration and resolution. A non-parametric Wilcoxon signed-rank test showed an increase at the integration and resolution levels with the PIM question prompts. The median values at integration were higher in week 2 of PIM#1(Md=2.00) and week 3 of PIM#2 (Md=3.00) compared to week 1 of PG#1 (Md=1.00) and week 4 of PG#2 (Md=1.00). The median value at resolution was found only in week 3 of PIM#2 showing that the PIM question prompts can move students' responses to higher levels of cognitive presence compared to the PG question prompts.

Conclusion and Discussions
Looking at the results, one may conclude that students can reach high levels of cognitive presence when discussions are designed with the PIM questions prompts accompanied with authentic tasks such as a case or a problem and participation guidelines. Therefore, online instructors can modify instructional methods and ask questions that help students move towards higher levels of cognitive thinking. Question prompts that explicitly ask students to provide a rationale for their solutions can provide students a way to critically think about their learning and step back to examine their own solutions (Hosler & Arend, 2012). Furthermore, framing the entire activity to guide the process of student engagement and interaction may also be helpful. Finally, students can be given one week for each type of question to provide more time for students to reflect on triggering/exploration before responding to the integration/resolution questions.