Atomic Bombings Lesson - Community of Inquiry

Building the Lesson Plan

Early in the midst of earning my Virtual Teacher specialization from the University of California Irvine via Coursera, I was given an assignment to construct a virtual lesson, whether synchronous, asynchronous, fully online, blended, or a combination. Disclaimer: I am not a school teacher, but actually a business-setting instructional designer. So I did not have the option to translate a classroom lesson into an online environment. Brainstorming a lesson plan was actually fairly difficult. The last time I thought about a K-12 lesson, I was speeding out a high school parking lot in my old '96 Honda Civic blasting Alice Cooper's Schools Out for Summer. But after perusing some Khan Academy videos on YouTube, I was inspired to develop a lesson about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

You can review the lesson plan here. Please feel free to comment constructively. Your feedback is welcome! Now that the lesson plan is finished, today I want to evaluate it using the Community of Inquiry model, a instructional design model commonly referenced for building online education.

What's the Community of Inquiry?

Instead of defining Community of Inquiry (CoI) with my own terms, I thought I'd borrow Athabasca University's eloquent definition: The CoI is "an educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding."

The CoI is a constructivist and collaborative framework built to develop deep meaningful learning experiences. The framework is made of three "presences," Social, Teaching, and Cognitive.

CoI visualized...

The community's Social presence is the comfort to identify with the community, to communicate ideas without feeling judgement, and to build relationships with other members of the community.

The Teaching presence is the instructors design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for community members to realize meaningful and personally worthy learning outcomes.

And finally, the Cognitive presence is the breadth of what the community members are able to construct and confirm meaning through reflection and discourse.

These three presences are hosted in a Communication Medium, or a space where community members can correspond. This space could be a classroom, a Learning Management System, or a social media platform.

The CoI model is visualized in the three-part Venn diagram where the three presences overlap. The presences compliment one another in three sections: Supporting Discourse (Social + Cognitive), communication and collaboration that encourages reflection and meaning-making; Selecting Content (Cognitive + Teaching) the instructor's curation and endorsement of information for the community members to process; and Setting Climate (Teaching + Social), establishing an accessible, trustworthy, and comfortable learning environment.

The three presences together form a strong educational experience for CoI members.

Evaluating the Lesson with CoI

Turning to the atomic bombing lesson I built, we can start to analyze how the CoI's criteria applies. 

Communication Medium: The lesson is conducted entirely online and asynchronously in a Google Groups discussion board.

Social presence: I note that students must be respectful of others' responses to the discussion questions.

Teaching presence: I provide six videos about the bombings and two articles. Students are asked to watch and read this content before answering the questions.

Cognitive presence: The students are asked three questions about the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a nutshell, why did the U.S. do it? What was the destructive impact? Why is it, or isn't it, justified? The third question encourages students to reflect about the event, and form their own opinions and meaning.

Supporting Discourse: Students are asked to answer the questions with their own opinion, opening themselves up to scrutiny. I ask that all students be respectful if they choose to respond to other students' responses. The combination of new knowledge, vulnerability, and politeness establishes a comfortable and judgement-free zone for reflection and collaboration.

Selecting Content: The content I provide come from reputable sources, including Khan Academy, BBC, Council of Foreign Relations, Prager University (speaking is Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor at Notre Dame University), Al Jazeera, Fair Observer (which provides a copy of Wilfred Burchett's 1945 article from The Daily Express), and Forbes.

Setting Climate: In addition to students forming an opinion, I note that I will respond to their answers with followup questions to guide their learning and expand their thought into areas not recognized at first, prompting further reflection and meaning-making.

After evaluating and applying the Community of Inquiry criteria, the atomic bombing lesson is a satisfactory online educational experience. If you are interested in experiencing it yourself, go to the discussion thread open on GoogleGroups.