Cognitive presence among mathematics teachers : an analysis of tasks and discussions in an asynchronous online graduate course
Higher order learning, in terms of both process and outcome, is frequently cited as the goal of higher education (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). However, the adoption of computer mediated communication in higher education has far outpaced our understanding of how this medium can best be used to promote higher order learning (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2004). Researchers have examined quantitative components of computer mediated communication, but little work has been done to examine the cognitive aspects of online discussion. Those studies that do exist demonstrate inconsistent evidence of higher order learning in online discussions (Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Littleton & Whitelock, 2005; McLoughlin & Luca, 2000; Meyer, 2003). Researchers conjecture that this could be due to the nature of the tasks that instructors implement for discussion purposes (Arnold & Ducate, 2006; Meyer, 2004; Murphy, 2004; Vonderwell, 2003). This study explored whether one component of instruction, the tasks assigned to students, had an effect on the level of cognitive presence that existed in the mathematical discussions of practicing mathematics teachers enrolled in an online graduate course. Through the method of content analysis, discussion transcripts were analyzed to look for evidence of higher-order learning based on the cognitive presence coding protocol developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2001). Seventeen students in a History of Mathematics course form the primary sample for this study. The results of the content analysis were triangulated with qualitative data from a questionnaire on student backgrounds and demographics and a post-course survey assessing student perceptions of their learning experiences. The researcher concluded that the MATH 500 course discussions did provide evidence of higher order learning in terms of cognitive presence. Task type, as defined in this study, was not directly related to the levels of cognitive presence achieved in the course. This finding does not negate the possibility of such a relationship, but in this study the effects of task type could not be isolated from other features of the course structure and assignments.