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Cognitive Presence

Cognitive Presence is “the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a Community of Inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication” (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000, p.89).


This requires the attention, effort, and commitment from both the faculty and the learners to go beyond “checking off the required boxes.” Success requires TRUST, which is suggested to be best acquired through successful applications of social presence.

Consider feedback. We can tell a student they need to improve specific aspects of an assignment, but without helping the student to feel comfortable to ask questions, to be incorrect, to critically inquire, the knowledge learned may be shallow. Learning how to encourage students to be critical thinkers is crucial and the heart of applying cognitive presence. This area also requires application from both the instructor and the student, so learning how to encourage this behavior is vital.

The strategies offered below are starting points. But remember, without trust it is suggested that the strategies will be less successful.

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Creating an environment that fosters intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity, encouraging students to explore and participate


Identifying resources that may be useful to the development of scholarly skills (thinking, writing, etc.)


Sharing tips/tricks to assist students in meeting expectations/completing assignments


Pointing out connections between course concepts and practical applications, world events, etc.


Recapping, clarifying misconceptions, building on progress in the course

Media developed by Rebecca Hayes, Ashford University

Announcement Strategies

While it goes without saying that participation is expected in all discussions, students may not realize the value of their contributions. Welcoming and encouraging students to join a community of learners will embolden active rather than perfunctory participation.  This announcement makes clear that the discussion forum is not simply a one-way dumping of information, but rather an opportunity to share their thoughts and explore the topic, actively seeking to create knowledge together.

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Many helpful, free resources are available to any student with a basic ability to conduct a google search.  But, only the most motivated of students will actively seek them out!  We can increase the likelihood that students will take advantage of the Library, Writing Center, or other online sources by pointing out the value in these resources and making them easily available.  Many instructors routinely share announcements with details regarding the latest Library or Writing Center webinars, which is an excellent practice.  In addition, instructors can include resources that address problems that are specific to a course.  This announcement provides general resources that address common concerns across courses in academic writing.

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Drawing Connections

Most of us hope that our students will leave our classes able to apply the content to the world around them.  How better to promote this practice than to provide demonstration of it to them?  This announcement capitalizes on a well-known scene from an artifact of popular culture, relating a course concept and directing eager learners to a relevant resource.

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At the end of a learning week, instructors are often keenly aware of the progress to date and future direction of the course.  Students don’t necessarily see the big picture, though.  It can be helpful to spell it out for them, summarizing, clarifying, providing a preview, and/or tying it all together.  This announcement identifies a common issue in the preceding week’s discussion forum and directs students to a post that clarifies misconceptions, inviting questions.

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Grading Feedback

Feedback to students that increases critical thought and successful development takes time, hence it can also be important to create feedback libraries to assist in helpful and specific feedback, encouraging improvement and self-development. It is also important to properly communicate in ways that does not break the trust that has been built. Students can become discouraged if they feel they are being belittled or overly disciplined. Consider the following in your feedback:

  • Tone

  • Specificity

  • Encouragement

  • Helpful resources

  • Opportunities to improve

  • Balance of strengths and opportunities for growth

  • Clarify concepts

  • Pose questions that extend student’s thinking

Remember: Both quantity and quality should be considered when providing feedback.

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Ensuring the accurate understanding of content. Providing clarification and/or additional resources, as needed, to help students.

Discussion Forum Strategies

Dialogue that encourages intellectual and critical thought and reflections.

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The sharing of relevant knowledge, expertise, research, and resources establishing the connection to topics in the course.

Advice from Dr. Laura Sliwinski, Colorado Technical University

Confirming adequate knowledge acquisition and development of learning and the meeting of weekly and course learning outcomes.

Integration of existing learning with new learning.

Encouraging a response from the student.

The sharing of recent news when the article is related to the course course content.

Posting questions to students that encourage students to be motivated to follow-up.

Have questions about cognitive presence and how to apply in your online classroom? Leave us a blog comment.

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