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PRESENCESSocial Presence, Cognitive Presence, Teaching Presence

How do online synchronous sessions support student learning in professional graduate programs where students are engaging in research active opportunities for scholarship of the profession?


As technology improves, online education is becoming a more accepted educational format.  Using webconferencing tools, such as Adobe Connect, allows instructors to meet with students synchronously, or in real-time during the semester.  With its similarity to face-to-face instruction, we wanted to better understand how instructors designed their synchronous sessions to promote student learning.  First, our research team explored if, and how, instructors used signature pedagogies <> within the synchronous sessions.  Signature pedagogies are methods of teaching (e.g., case studies, problem-based learning) that are considered important to a specific profession (e.g., labs for chemistry; see Shulman, 2005).  Second, we made the assumption that the use of signature pedagogies would promote student learning and support a community of inquiry – teaching, cognitive and social presence (see Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, 2001; Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Vaughan & Garrison, 2005). We reviewed online synchonrous sessions for the presence of three components of  a community of inquiry and signature pedagogies.  


Using a mixed methods action-research approach, we surveyed students following all synchronous sessions from four graduate courses during a semester and documented the activities conducted within each session.  Afterwards, we interviewed the instructors and students involved in the courses as well as administrators of the graduate program.   The purpose of the surveys and interviews was to identify a) the purpose behind including the activities within each session, and b) the perceived usefulness of the activities for learning. Drawing on the Community of Inquiry framework and signature pedagogies as a lens for analysis, the findings suggest there are conditions that support developing cognitive, social and teaching presence during online synchronous sessions; however, less evidence is present in relation to signature pedagogies.


The following examples demonstrate the types of interactions students find engaging during synchronous sessions:

·     Student presentations of research ideas

·     Receiving feedback from their peers

·     Opportunities for Q&A with instructor


Preliminary Findings:

·     Mapping the synchronous session activities demonstrated evidence of social, cognitive and teaching presence.

·     Limited evidence of signature pedagogies was present during the synchronous sessions.

·     There were technology issues (i.e. connectivity, microphone) during the synchronous sessions.

·     Students recognize synchronous sessions are worthwhile but indicate more synchronous time is needed.  There is insufficient time for sharing and receiving feedback from peers and instructors.




At the time of writing this blog post, our study was still in progress. We are in the process of analyzing the data more deeply and expect to share the findings of our research though journal articles and conference presentations over the coming months.


Research team


Barbara Brown, Sarah Elaine Eaton, Meadow Schroeder and Jennifer Macdonald, Werklund School of Education, University of Caglary


We are grateful to the Office of Teaching and Learning, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, who awarded funding for this project under the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant.


More detail about the conceptualization of the study can be accessed in the project brief:

Eaton, S. E., Brown, B., & Schroeder, M. (2017). Student learning in synchronous onlineclasses: Research project brief. Calgary, AB: University of Calgary. Retrieved from


Other Related Sources


Brown, B., Eaton, S. E., Schroeder, M. (2017). Signature pedagogies in online classes. In A.P. Preciado Babb, Yeworiew, L., & Sabbaghan, S. (Eds.). Selected Proceedings of the IDEAS 2017 Conference: Leading Educational Change, pp. 66-74. Calgary, Canada: Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. URL:


Brown, B., Schroeder, M., & Eaton, S. E. (2016). Designing synchronous online interactions and discussions. In M. Takeuchi, A. P. Preciado Babb, & J. V. Lock (Eds.), IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation. Calgary, Alberta: Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Retrieved from


Eaton, S. E., Brown, B., Schroeder, M., Lock, J., & Jacobsen, M.(2017). Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond. Calgary: University of Calgary.[refereed, 24 pages] An Open Educational Resource (OER) developed as a contribution to the "English in Technology" event sponsored by The White House Office of Global Engagement and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of English Language Programs. URL:


Schroeder, M., & Brown, B.(Producer). (2016). Adobe Connect in Action, Part I: Teaching in an Online Classroom, in collaboration with Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Retrieved from


Schroeder, M., & Brown, B.(Producer). (2016). Adobe Connect in Action, Part II: Teaching in an Online Classroom, in collaboration with Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Retrieved from



Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R.(2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3-4),3-22. 


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T.,& Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3),87-105. 


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T.,& Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education,15(1). doi:10.1080/08923640109527071


Garrison, D. R., &Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3),133-148. 


Shulman, L.S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52-59. Retrieved from


Vaughan, N., & Garrison, D.R. (2005). Creating cognitive presence in a blended faculty development community. Internet and Higher Education, 8, 1-12.


Barb Brown
Instructor, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary
Dr. Barb Brown is Director of Professional Graduate Programs in Education and Partner Research Schools in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. In her role, she also serves as director of research for the Galileo Educational Network. She has professional experiences in leadership, teaching and educational technology in K-12 education in Alberta and now teaches and conducts research in post-secondary.



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