Editorial: Promoting Online Presence and Interaction in Digital Learning Environments

By Erika E. Smith, PhD, Associate Professor and Faculty Development Consultant, Mount Royal University

As we continue to reflect upon how our expanded use of technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic will have implications for online teaching and learning now and into the future, it is valuable for educators and educational technologists alike to contemplate whether the models commonly used to inform designs for learning in digital environments have been (re)considered or (re)applied in recent practice.

One of the most well-known and oft-used models in the field of educational technology is Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. The original CoI framework highlights cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence as three vital, interconnected elements of online learning communities. Related to these three types of presence, interactions are a critical part of the educational process, and should be facilitated between learners, educators, and content (e.g., learner-learner, educator-learner, and learner-content interactions, etc.) (Anderson, 2008; Moore, 1989). Fiock’s (2020) article provides a helpful description, along with relevant practice-based examples, illustrating in detail how the CoI framework can be used in online course design. In my own design and educational development work supporting the rapid online transitions needed for emergency remote teaching during the pandemic, I also found value in mapping key elements of online interaction to illustrative aspects of pedagogical practice (Smith, 2020). These examples and others like them show the continued importance of the CoI and related interaction models as useful heuristics that can inform designs for learning in digital environments.

Entries in the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository provide many strategies for promoting online presence through the very kinds of interactions and interconnections shown to be beneficial for community building in digital learning environments. To highlight some recently published TOPR entries that make valuable contributions in these ways, Danley (2022) describes prompting student reflection and discussion in synchronous sessions via “hooks” that encourage interaction, where we can see the interlinking of all three types of presence – especially social and cognitive presence – through exchanges in online discourse. When considering Eadens, Cadwell Bazatta, and Eadens’ (2022) entry on building relational humanity between faculty and students in asynchronous settings, we can also make connections between different kinds of presence, in particular the interface between teaching and social presence, ultimately aiming to foster interactions and ideally partnerships between educators and learners.

Likewise, Frass and Edwards’ (2022) entry on using backward design for online courses details strategies for incorporating pedagogical approaches that connect learners with each other, with faculty educators, and with the content (the latter being especially important for developing cognitive presence). Using an integrative lens that touches on different facets of online presence and interaction, Goulet, Murphy, Norman-Eck, and Levitt’s (2022) entry on using a holistic educational model to promote student success and retention outlines opportunities for reexamining and reimagining pedagogical strategies that expand caring approaches to incorporate greater flexibility, accessibility, sensitivity, and listening. Hinze’s (2022) contribution on online group assessment through virtual posters also describes ways to facilitate online presence and interaction, particularly between students, through peer collaboration and feedback.

Noteworthy, as well, are the renewed TOPR entries (see work by Chen, Raible, Bauer, and Thompson on welcome messages, Fegely and Cherner on digital gallery walks, and Chen, deNoyelles, Thompson, Sugar, and Vargas on discussion rubrics) that have recently been added to the repository as peer-reviewed contributions.

Together, all of these contributions help to connect the wider body of educational theory and scholarship to tried and tested strategies that can be used in designs for learning in online spaces. As we look toward the future of online learning, such efforts to integrate scholarship and practice will no doubt continue to be a necessary endeavor.


Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Ed.), The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., pp. 45-74). https://www.aupress.ca/app/uploads/120146_99Z_Anderson_2008-Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning.pdf

Fiock, H. (2020). Designing a community of inquiry in online courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 135-153. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i5.3985

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6

Moore, M. G. (1989). Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1−6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08923648909526659

Smith, E. E. (2020). 3 things to consider when designing remote teaching [Infographic]. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12125688.v2

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