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D. Randy Garrison
October 3, 2023

My previous editorial addressed the generic nature of the CoI framework. Given the relevance and validity of the CoI framework in face-to-face settings, this editorial considers the comparison of text and linguistic discourse to online and face-to-face contexts. More specifically, this editorial brings renewed attention to Social Presence (SP) such that it would benefit from greater clarification. As important as SP is in the functioning of a purposeful community of inquiry (CoI),we noted early on that it can also be a distraction regarding the central purpose of a learning community. To this point it is important to keep in mind that the inquiry process is the core purpose and function of a CoI. Social and Teaching Presence are functions that together support collaborative inquiry (Cognitive Presence) manifested in the form of personal reflection and shared collaboration (Practical Inquiry model). In this way Practical inquiry (CP) reflects critical thinking and discourse to construct personal meaning that generates shared understanding as we seek the best version of the truth available at the time.

The seminal definition of SP focused on participants projecting themselves socially and emotionally. The paradoxical challenge is that to move beyond general feed back and engage in substantive and critical discourse can be made difficult by social presence in the form of excessive personal intimacy (Goda, 2023). For this reason we emphasized that SP extends beyond being seen as a person and interpersonal relationships. That is, it is paramount that interpersonal interactions be in the service of purposeful academic discourse. While SP is essential for collaborative inquiry, it is not limited to establishing and sustaining socio-emotional relationships. It is important to recognize that SP“ in an academic context means creating a climate that supports and encourages probing questions, skepticism and the contribution of explanatory ideas”(Garrison, 2017, p.37). The socio-emotional emphasis of SP creates the risk of participants being too congenial and thus avoiding the essential dynamic of critically challenging ideas.

Shared academic purpose is an essential component of SP and essential to a cohesive and sustainable CoI. For this reason, I offered a refined definition of SP that explicitly included academic identity and purpose as the cohesive catalyst of a CoI. Based on research concerning shared purpose and group identity, I offered the following definition of SP “as the ability of participants to identify with the group or course of study, communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop personal and affective relationships progressively byway of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2017, p. 41-42). The intent of this revised construct was to clarify the importance of group identity to SP and collaborative inquiry.

This issue of shared academic purpose as a component of SP was addressed in an article that compared face-to-face (FTF) and online text discussion groups (Michelson, Abdennebi, & Michelson, 2023). This perspective provided an interesting insight into social affordances in text and linguistic communication. Based on previous research, the study explored whether written comments afford “deeper reflection and closer readings and discussions … that are more firmly grounded in textual content than traditional FTF classroom discussions” (Michelson, Abdennebi, & Michelson, 2023, pp.2-3). This research found “that the FTF groups were highly social at the expense of text‐centered discussions … [where text discussions suggest] a more sustained task‐orientation than observed in the FTF groups, echoing findings from collaborative learning research that have repeatedly found online groups to be more task‐oriented” (p. 15). The conclusion was that text offers more“ anchored” discussions than FTF. Face-to-face groups stayed on task less frequently than the text-based groups which suggests the need for teaching presence. This strongly supports the inclusion of group identity and academic purpose.

This study revealed to me not so much the differences of text and linguistic communication, but that SP must be in the service of setting the climate for the academic purpose of the group and the dynamic of collaborative inquiry (i.e., cognitive presence). This was the motivation for my revision of the SP construct to go beyond affective relationships and identify with the group and the academic goals of the inquiry. Notwithstanding the need to create SP in a CoI, it may be that asynchronous text-based communication offers affordances in maintaining focus on the academic goals and discourse of the learning community that may well be more challenging in a face-to-face setting.


Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd edition). London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Goda, Y. (2023). Design and facilitation to balance social, teaching, and cognitive presence (pp. ). In Cleveland-Innes, M., Stenbom, S.,& Garrison, D. R. (Eds.) (2023). The Design of Digital Learning Environments: Online and Blended Applications of the Community of Inquiry. London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Michelson, K., Abdennebi, M., and Michelson, C. (2023). Text-centered “talk” in foreign language classrooms: Comparing the affordances of face-to-face and digital social annotated reading. Foreign Language Annals, 1–27.

Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, R., & Archer, W. (1999). Assessing Social Presence in Asynchronous Text-based, Computer Conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(2), 50-71.



D. Randy Garrison
Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary
D. Randy Garrison is professor emeritus at the University of Calgary.Dr. Garrison has published extensively on teaching and learning in adult, higher and distance education contexts. He has authored, co-authored or edited fifteen books; 94 articles; 68 book chapters; 40 conference proceedings; and more than 100 academic presentations. His major books are: Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd Edition); Garrison, D. R. (2016). Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry; Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles and guidelines; Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2000). A transactional perspective on teaching-learning: A framework for adult and higher education. Curriculum vitae


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