Notes: Zydney, deNoyelles & Kyeong-Ju Seo (2012) – Creating a community of inquiry in online environments…

Zydney, J. M., deNoyelles, A., & Kyeong-Ju Seo, K. (2012). Creating a community of inquiry in online environments: An exploratory study on the effect of a protocol on interactions within asynchronous discussions. Computers & Education, 58(1), 77–87. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.07.009


The purpose of our research was to examine the influence of an online protocol on asynchronous discussions. A mixed-methods study compared two online graduate classes: one that used a protocol and one that did not use a protocol for the same discussion about a complex reading. Analysis of the data revealed that the online protocol more evenly distributed the presence of cognitive, social, and teaching elements necessary to create and sustain an online community of inquiry. Use of the protocol also promoted more shared group cognition and more student ownership of the discussion and empowered students to facilitate themselves, helping to reduce the instructor workload. These findings may enable educators to provide more dynamic interaction and richer learning experiences in asynchronous online environments.

purpose and context of the study:

Given the literature concerning online discussions, the use of protocols could prove particularly powerful to support both students and teachers. Concerning instructional design and organization, protocols may provide a very structured discussion prompt, which let students know their role, giving built-in supports leading to a progression in thought. However, it is still open-ended enough so that students can select their own topic, experiencing more ownership of the discussion. Protocols may reduce the instance of discussion monologues, since the protocol explicitly requires interaction. Because the protocol spells out who should post and who should respond at a given time, there is no need for a specific facilitator, as the participants essentially facilitate themselves.

they looked at 2 fully-online grad-level classes in a higher-ed setting. n=12 and n=14.

on protocol vs. non-protocol:

The protocol class received the “Save the Last Word for Me” protocol (McDonald et al., 2003), which was modified for an online discussion forum. In this protocol, at the beginning of the week, half the students were asked to post a quote from the reading, which they thought was important but particularly complex. They were told not to reveal the reasoning behind their selection of the quote. Then during the middle of the week, two students posted a reaction to each quote. At the end of the week, the students who posted the quote revealed their original interest in the passage and what they learned from reading the reactions from the other two students. This discussion was then repeated the following week with the other half of the students posting the quotes for discussion.
The non-protocol class received the open-ended discussion question: “How does thinking about a concept from multiple perspectives help or hinder the learner from gaining a deeper understanding?” The students responded to this initial prompt based on their readings and then replied to at least one other student’s response.


Overall, there was a more even distribution for the protocol group among cognitive, social, and teaching presences than in the non- protocol group, as shown in Table 2. Further analysis was done for the categories within each of these elements as described in the following sections.

so, with protocol, more people were more actively engaged, rather than a few keeners hogging all the fun.

Based on our analysis of this data, there were several interesting differences between the protocol and non-protocol discussions. For example, the protocol group had a more balanced distribution of the three presences than the non-protocol group. This is more reflective of the COI model, which emphasizes that all three presences have to meaningfully interact in order to facilitate a successful learning community (Garrison et al., 2000, 2010). The protocol group also demonstrated more shared group cognition than individual cognition. This increased interaction likely resulted from the structure of the activity and the defined roles for communication that prompted students to reply to one another to problem solve how to interpret the quotes selected.

This would be handy to look at differences in discourse between 2 different classes. Less relevant for my research, since both groups are in the same class, with the same instructor, doing the same activities. But if they weren’t, perhaps varying protocol used by different instructors could explain varying levels of engagement…

There’s a PROTOCOL to be followed!