The Concept of Community of Inquiry in Pedagogy

The use of democracy in teaching and learning and how democracy can be developed during the learning process… Morally and behaviorally and how we can create a community of inquiry.

The Concept of Community of Inquiry in Pedagogy

Community of inquiry can be defined as any group of individuals comprising of teachers, colleagues and students; who actively engage in the process of empirical or conceptual inquiry into situations that are problematic hence come up with solutions or develop ways that lead to finding solutions to the problems. Community of inquiry as a concept has a strong merit of realizing the dynamic nature of the society and laying emphasis on the social quality of knowledge formation as well as the contingency of the knowledge formation process. The idea was developed by pragmatist thinkers John Dewey and C.S. Peirce as a better alternative to the Cartesian model where the process of knowledge formation and acquisition was based on the presumption that there was a fixed and non-changing reality; which can objectively be known through rational observation of a rational observer.

There are six basic tenets that provide a supporting backbone for the educational experience in the community of inquiry model. First, as already mentioned above, social presence is a vital element in the process of the discourse. Secondly, there is the supporting discourse that forms an equally important part of the objective of the entire undertaking. Supporting discourse is closely related to selecting content where the right content must be selected for the discourse to enable construction of personal meaning and confirmation of mutual understanding. With the above three elements well taken care of, the setting climate must be made in such a way that it supports the objective of the empirical or conceptual search process. Two other elements that are needed to make the grounding of the model complete are cognitive presence and teaching presence. The figure below provides a clearer illustration of these relationships.



As it can be seen from the model, the concept puts stress on the principle that knowledge is essentially embedded within a social framework and hence calls for agreement from the subjective point of view of the various individuals involved in the process of discourse. It is only through this understanding that the process of inquiry gains its legitimacy. From the model above, the cognitive presence implies the extent to which students and pupils are able to develop and confirm meaning through persistent reflection and discussion ().

On the other hand, social presence indicates the ability of all the participating members to relate to the community they are interacting with in terms of the discourse and this may include things such as identifying with the course of the study. It also entails the ability of the participants to communicate tenaciously within the environments they interact with and further have the ability to foster inter-personal relationships by way of envisaging their individual personalities. The teaching presence entails the design, facilitating or smoothing the progress of the discourse. The teaching presence also helps in providing direction to the cognitive presence and social presence so that the processes are aligned with a sole purpose of making the entire process worthwhile and personally meaningful ( source).

Building and Developing Community of Inquiry

One particular aspect of the concept that essentially comes to our attention is how to formulate or develop the community of inquiry. In order to create or develop a community of inquiry, it is essential to first recognize that it is of great significance for a strong link to be established between school and society and envisage knowledge formation process as the development and expression of the lived experience for the participants. This implies that the first requirement is the presence and deployment of critical thinking. The academic inquiry carried out by Bruce and Bloch (2013) provides a good support for critical thinking as a vital pillar in building the community of inquiry. The authors point out that the level of pragmatism needed call for critical thinking in developing processes suited for diverse nature of places, suitable for specific times and circumstances.

Without putting a critical thought in the input of the process development, it would not be easy to come up with a model that’s reassures of changing with the changing times and having the capacity to link the school with the community effectively in the face of a dynamic society. It would appear that critical thinking is a first building block of the community of inquiry but a closer examination reveals that there is an intricate relationship between the input and the outcome where critical thinking is put in as a vital input yet the success of the community of inquiry helps in furtherance of the critical thought process. This would therefore be vital for outcomes such as innovation and problem-solving.

Bruce and Bloch (2013)are however also quick to point out that when deciding on developing a community of inquiry, one important step involves creating a clear distinction between community inquiry and any other research undertaking that merely uses the community as a laboratory to achieve its research objectives. This distinction is important because it helps in establishing the vital requisites that must be put in to make the community of inquiry a success as opposed to just establishing a sociological laboratory where the community is used as a mere laboratory yet not getting integrally involved as a vital stakeholder in the knowledge formation process.

Besides the use of the critical thinking as a tool for developing a community of inquiry, the other important pillar in the quest for a community of inquiry is the creation of a proper democratic environment that fosters trust among the various participating members in the knowledge formation process. The work done by Burgh and Yorshansky (2008) provide a point of reference for the relationship between democracy and pedagogy. The authors note that while democracy has permeated the education platform as an important aspect, the community of inquiry on its own stands as an example of democracy in action. This, the authors further argue, is achieved by the fact that through community of inquiry concept, education is objectively undertaken for the purpose of achieving democracy.

A worthwhile course in understanding the implication of embracing democracy in the classroom would be to understand the meaning of democracy in the context of the classroom settings. To define democracy, this current discourse uses the definition used by Korkmaz and Ilker (2013) where they define democratic education as a form of educational perspective in which the young people or participants are provided with the freedom to organize their day-to-day lives; there is equality between the young generation and adults. In addition, democratic decision-making procedures are adopted. The characteristics of democratic education should be in line with the ones highlighted by Balme and Bennis and referenced by Korkmaz and Ilker (2013) that democratic education should be geared toward promoting the participation of students in the building of the school’s structure and vision. The democratic education should also make it possible for students to regulate their own ways of knowledge formation process and living while adults act as a guiding presence.

Democracy as a principle that should be inculcated into the classroom comes in two diverse ways. First, it could be understood from the perspective of empowering the citizenry to have control over the public decision-making. The second perspective is where the citizens are equally empowered to exercise their decision making mandate. The difficulty in measuring the progress of democracy in the classroom based on the two principles has been duly noted in the previous literature. The difficulty in measuring this process has been identified as sprouting from the fact that there are numerous indicators developed and used by various organizations that are employed to measure progress in democracy. For instance, Burgh and Yorshanisky (2008) point out that the UN as an example of international institutions that have developed various indicators to measure democracy put emphasis on indicators such as effectiveness of political institutions and the extent to which citizens participate in the civic life still make flawed assumption about democracy.

The assumption these institutions make is that the hallmark of democracy is the conducting of free and regular elections. In contrast, and with respect to the community of inquiry concept, democracy should be able to empower all citizens without excluding any from direct decision-making process and participation. Therefore to outwit this major difficulty of perspective of measurement and interpretation of purpose, John Dewey’s concept of a democratic society is often called upon. John Dewey’s idea of a school as a democratic community highlights the school as a setup that is specifically geared toward achieving deliberative democracy where every participating member not only has a decision-making role but also there is equality in the decision making exercise and also that these aspects are carried on to the larger community (Burgh & Yorshansky 2008).

Furthermore, democracy should be cultivated in the classroom in such a way that it should be seen as a mode of associated living, bearing a characteristic of conjoint and communicated experience. Before moving on with the idea of how a community of inquiry can be built, it is essential to look at the other side of the argument of democracy in the classroom and look at arguments posited against developing a democratic environment in the educational context.

Critics of Democracy in Classroom

Yet, democracy as a principle that has been touted as essential for introduction into the classroom does not enjoy wholesome support. There are critics who argue against the introduction of democracy into the classroom. For instance, the discourse by Cheng’ et al (20??) provides a perspective that is worth a critical thought. The authors argue against the introduction of democracy into the classroom based on the argument that introducing democracy into the classroom makes it impossible of extremely difficulty to realize the noble and fundamental role of education of achieving noble form of education for everyone.

The point of argument in this case is that if democracy is introduced into the classroom then it is likely (as has been proved through history) that mass education would be promoted at the expense of offering noble education to everyone. In addition, critics of democracy in the classroom point out that introducing democracy into the classroom is an attempt to generate favorable learning conditions in the school or learning environment yet the conditions fronted are not available to every student. It then implies that democracy in the classroom is an exercise in futility since it purports to create conditions that it cannot create with absolute surety or which cannot be absolutely guaranteed.