I am an education-focused academic and researcher in the UTS Business School Management Department, who embraces the change to move forward, and sees the challenges as a way to learn more, improve and succeed. The transition from face-to-face to online teaching was a fascinating experience to see how important it is to welcome a new environment. The subjects that I am teaching involve creativity and problem solving in businesses, organisations and industries. However, I have realised how challenging it can be to create strong student engagement.

For me, the starting point is to understand students’ expectations. This is why, at the beginning of each session, I send a ‘Getting to know you’ survey that asks students what they expect from the subject, from their tutors and lecturers. The response rate is usually very good, and using the survey information in the tutorials or the lectures helps me to create/improve the content depending on what students want to learn, what they want to know more about and how they hope to reach the subject outcomes.

The student survey sent out at the beginning of session, with questions on what students expect to achieve, their preferred platforms, and their current knowledge.
The ‘Getting to know you’ survey.
A shared whiteboard with students responses to 'what we don't know about each other', where students have responded with their various interests.
Students respond to the question ‘What we don’t know about each other?’.

Dixson defines student engagement as:

…students using time and energy to learn materials and skills, demonstrating learning, interacting in a meaningful way with others in the class (enough so that those people become ‘real’), and becoming at least somewhat emotionally involved with their learning (i.e. getting excited about an idea, enjoying the learning and/or interaction).

(Dixson 2015, p. 4).

Considering Dixon’s definition, starting with Spring session 2021, my major goal was to create a stronger virtual community feeling in my subjects, especially in my tutorials. I decided to apply the theoretical framework, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) (Garrison et al, 2001; Garrison et al, 2010), to create a stronger online learning process. I decided to apply the three elements in that framework, which are cognitive presence, teaching presence and social presence. Making these elements work together will help to create and maintain a collaborative community of inquiry in the online education environment (Smith & Kaya, 2021). 

Cognitive presence

Cognitive presence is facilitated by consistent communication, especially in the tutorials. I started to use four phases in the learning and inquiry process:

  • Defining a problem or a task – tell students to explore some relevant information and knowledge in the breakout rooms, then work as a group in the breakout rooms and make sense of it.
  • Integrate their ideas.
  • Once students test their plausible solutions or complete their discussions in the breakout rooms, they come back to the main session the share their ideas with others.
  • We consolidate the findings. 

Through the use of digital collaborative tools such as Padlet, LucidChart, Mindmeister, Miroboard, shared Teams docs and PowerPoints, students created storyboards, brainstorm, ideate, and add notes, images and figures. At the end of each tutorial, all collaborative links were made available in Canvas for all students to revisit. 

Teaching presence

Teaching presence is about designing and facilitating a meaningful learning outcome for students. To enhance this element, I started to design learning activities that are closely linked to the assignments and the subject outcomes. I was able to create an active teaching presence by following Cormier and Siemans’ (2010) suggestions of:

  • amplifying (pointing out the important concepts and ideas)
  • curating (providing relevant readings and videos to scaffold concepts)
  • aggregating (explaining the patterns in discussions)
  • and staying present (maintaining my presence throughout the session by being prompt in responding emails, creating conversations in Teams or posting news to Canvas discussions).

Social presence

Active teaching presence allowed me to have a stronger social presence. I created a stronger virtual small community among my students, especially by using Teams more efficiently. I created specific channels for my tutorials, and I post some readings, comics, videos, or news. Students comment on them and have a conversation with other students enrolled in the subject. Via Teams, they reach me quite easily, rather than emailing and waiting for me to be get back to them. I found Teams quicker and more inclusive rather than communicating via Canvas or email. I am also using the chat component in Canvas. I told my students if they see me online, then can come and have a chat, they can write their questions, and then they will receive an instant response. 

What we offer to our students shapes their understanding of responsibilities, and their perspectives on their assignments. Getting to know them and displaying genuine interest in their expectations creates an encouraging learning experience for them. Application of cognitive presence, teaching presence and social presence created a more engaging learning environment in my subject and enabled students to develop stronger sense of community. 


Cormier, D., & Siemens, G. (2010). The open course: Through the open door–open courses as research, learning, and engagement. EDUCAUSE review, 45(4). 

Dixson, M. D. (2015). Measuring student engagement in the online course: The Online Student Engagement scale (OSE). Online Learning, 19(4), n4. 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education15(1), 7–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/08923640109527071 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the Community of Inquiry framework: A retrospective. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 5–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.10.003  

Smith, E. K., & Kaya, E. (2021). Online University Teaching at the Time of COVID-19 (2020): An Australian Perspective. IAFOR Journal of Education, 9(2), 183-200. 

Feature image by mentatdgt from Pexels.

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