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Talis Elevate

Communities of Inquiry and Talis Elevate

Matt East

I’m often asked about the most effective implementation of Talis Elevate within courses. The truthful answer is, like any system, is it depends entirely on the environment that’s constructed, the outcomes you want to achieve, and the goal for incorporating collaborative activity into your practice. There’s never any perfect rule to follow with this kind of thing. 

However, I have found myself more recently referring to the Community of Inquiry (COI) model as a really valuable framework for use of Talis Elevate. This type of approach to community presence and application really lends itself to the considerations we often talk about when utilising Talis Elevate.

What is the COI framework?

The community of inquiry framework seeks to represent an environmental setup, supporting the clear creation of meaningful dialogue within a course setting. It does so by clearly defining the 3 key elements of the environment in this context, the crossover between element, to support collaborative, constructive learning. The original framework was developed back in 2000, originally developed for asynchronous, text based practice, but has now been expanded for application in different contexts and environments. 

The COI model describes 3 key areas of presence within the learning community. 

  • Cognitive presence: how students can construct meaning through community based discourse 
  • Social Presence: the role that student to student discussion and collaboration takes in contributing to the collective understanding and knowledge gain 
  • Teaching presence: the role of the academic in the environment. This stretches from the design of the learning environment to the physical role the academic takes within the learning community (steering, feeding back, facilitating etc) 

Typically, these different ‘spaces’ would exist across a number of different platforms in an online space . By using Talis Elevate, you are able to create an environment where the construction of knowledge is part of the content, inextricably linked to the subject matter you’re presenting. This supports the COI model brilliantly, finding that blend between engaging with peers and content to create social discourse. 

Fundamentally, this is building on the belief that knowledge construction is not transactional, but collaborative in nature, and is part of a continuous process throughout a learning journey, something we feel, and seek to support through the development of Talis Elevate.  

A huge amount of literature has been written about this. If you want to learn more about the application and evolution of this framework, i’d highly recommend checking out the original  website dedicated to this project (here) 

In the spirit of practicing what we preach around utilising different mediums for explaining subject matter, here’s a few alternative links, including a podcast from the original author, Dr. Randy Garrison. 

Utilising Talis Elevate as part of creating a community of inquiry

Cognitive presence 

  • Curate and create resources for efficiency and purpose: Especially in the environment we are in right now, we need to keep things clear, and simple, from the technologies we use to the expectations we set for our students. The open University keep this at the core of their design principles when looking at collaborative activity (link)
  • Utilise different mediums:  Our goal is to get students thinking critically about the subject matter we present in our learning environments. Doing so from a number of perspectives and mediums is important. We’ve heard from colleagues like Helen Nichols at Lincoln (link) about the importance of presenting subject matter in different ways; Talis Elevate lends itself to this, and allows conversation to occur across all content types. Constructive Alignment: We have all seen and heard the perception around relevance of activity, and strategic engagement in our learning environments. Ensuring that planned activity is aligned with the learning outcomes for the week and the assessment is important.

Social Presence 

  • The role of co-construction within your learning environment:discussion elements can be seen as a nice to have, or a bolt on for activity. However, activity designed with co-construction of knowledge in mind can be one of the most powerful tools in our toolkit, regardless of technology.  Jesse Stommel’s Digital Studies module puts this at the forefront of the activity, making it clear from the offset that the contributions of the cohort are just as valuable as the activity constructed by the academic. 

“This is a collaborative course, focusing on discussion and work in groups. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course.”

Jesse Stomell – DST 101 Syllabus, Medium 

  • Collaborative discourse: When an environment is set up to facilitate co-construction, the conversations that can flourish can become more valuable as the resource itself Our academic community have observed some common misconceptions around Talis Elevate activity is believing that the goal is collaborative annotation, not discussion. By ensuring that students are aware they can, and should, discuss, debate, challenge, question and build on each others learning, this can add so much value to the learning environment. 
  • Stupid questions: There is no such thing as a stupid question. Regardless, the anxiety around perception of this is still a reality. This is why we added anonymous commenting into Talis Elevate. We’ve even made it easier to comment this way, as we know this is such a blocker for students to contribute. By making it clear that we, as a learning community, actively encourage questions within our content, we are doing what we can to at least reduce some of the anxiety our students face in this area.
  • Outline parameters: Garrison (2020) talks about striking the balance on social cohesion. This can go too far, to the point where critique can become obnoxious or negative. Define the scope of conversation you expect within the learning environment, what’s acceptable and what’s not. 

Teaching presence 

  • Set realistic timeframes: If you want your students to do something before the seminar, tell them that, and tell them why. For example, if you plan to utilise the discussion that’s taken place in Talis Elevate ahead of a seminar, make that clear.
  • Guide ‘live’ activity based on contributions: One of the things students have told us they really value is the evident targeting of seminar discussion based on conversations that have taken place in resources. Building on conversations in a live environment demonstrates your involvement and cognitive awareness of the classroom contributions, adding perceived value to the activity. 
  • Adjust your practice: Your content and delivery shouldn’t be seen as a fixed asset, don’t be afraid to adjust based on your observations in front of you. Ensure you’re feeding this back to your students as well.

What’s coming soon in Talis Elevate to support this 

We know that building dialogue between peers has been challenging this year. We have been investigating how we can help conversations flourish within Talis Elevate, and have identified a few problems 

  • It’s difficult to ‘call out’ or ‘bring others in’ to conversations. 
  • Discussion isn’t linear, but Elevate convention is at the moment 
  • Affirmation and recognition is really important to student confidence 

Our next release will enable students to callout their peers and academics within resources. By bringing in mentions, this will allow for targeted conversations to take place, bringing the discussion back into the resource context in a much more streamlined way. 

Following this, we’re changing the way you can reply to individual comments. As we said, conversations aren’t linear, so we’re ensuring that your students can reply to the specific part of the conversation rather than just within the thread. This will utilise the mentions function we highlighted earlier. 

We’re changing the way ‘agrees’ work. We want students to build on their thinking, not just hit a button. Therefore, showing agreement with their peers will prompt students to build on their arguments, encouraging deeper dialogue with peers. 

Finally, we recognise the role of the academic in these environments is critical to student engagement. Giving students positive feedback towards their contribution is clearly very important, powerful and supportive. We will be finishing off this work with new capabilities for academics to provide positive affirmation to students on their contributions. 

Watch this space as we start adding these features into Talis Elevate over the next month or so.

References and further reading/watching 

Reflective teaching in a Digital Age (2020), Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework and Online Teaching, [Podcast], available at [accessed 140321] 

Howard, N (2020), Understand the Community of Enquiry Framework (Online), available at [accessed 180321] 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher educationmodel. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

By Matbury – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Stomell, J (2020), DST101 Syllabus, [online], available at [acessed 160321]

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