The Online Crit: The Community of Inquiry Meets Design Education

Tene C. Barber

VOL. 25, No. 1


Asynchronous discussion technologies offer the advantage of providing time for reflection essential for higher order cognitive thinking. In the context of a ten-week graphic design foundations course in the Digital Graphic Design program at Vancouver Community College, this advantage provides an avenue for advancing critical discussion of design work. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (COI) model is applied in tandem with the design process to develop a blended approach to the traditional critique. The appropriate alignment of curriculum and faculty and student interactions to the environments best suited is determined. Guiding principles and learning objectives and tasks are developed to support cognitive, social and teaching presences essential to foster critical discourse in asynchronous discussion environments.


Les technologies asynchrones de discussion ont l’avantage d’offrir du temps pour la réflexion, laquelle est essentielle à la pensée cognitive d’ordre supérieur. Dans le cadre d’un cours de dix semaines sur les fondements du graphisme dans le programme de Digital Graphic Design au Vancouver Community College, cet avantage fournit une voie permettant de faire progresser la discussion critique du travail en graphisme. Le modèle de la communauté d’enquête (Community of Inquiry Model - COI) de Garrison, Anderson et Archer (2000) est ici appliqué en tandem avec le processus de conception afin d’élaborer une approche combinée de la critique traditionnelle. Est ainsi déterminé l’enlignement approprié vers les environnements les mieux adaptés au curriculum, aux enseignants et aux interactions des étudiants. Des principes directeurs et des objectifs et tâches d’apprentissage sont élaborés pour soutenir la présence cognitive, sociale et d’enseignement nécessaire à la stimulation d’un discours critique dans le cadre d’environnements asynchrones de discussion.


Asynchronous discussion technologies have the potential to transform the age-old practice of the traditional critique (crit) from performance art to a powerful vehicle for quality critical discussion. The crit is utilized across a number of design disciplines (architecture, fine art, industrial and graphic design, music) and serves as an explanation of the design student’s thinking process and critical analysis of the presented work (Blair, 2006, p. 83). The traditional crit generally involves a large group of students and faculty engaging in a long discussion in which all student work is reviewed in one face-to-face setting. While research indicates that the traditional crit prepares students to ‘show’ their work, there is “little evidence of students being taught the skills of critical reflection and argument” (Percy, 2003, p. 147).

Research on the crit forum and its delivery has focused on higher order learning, student and faculty preparation, the role of faculty and student, and time management. Blair (2006) reports that performance anxiety associated with the large face-to-face crit is one of the largest obstacles to critical discourse and is not reflective of industry practice (p. 84). Percy (2003) conducted a study involving an online crit setting and reported students preferred online asynchronous discussion as it provided more time to consider the content more carefully. Asynchronous discussion forums have the advantage of providing the time for reflection essential for higher order cognitive thinking. This is critical when the objective is to facilitate thinking about complex issues and deep meaningful learning. Learners have reported that communication through discussion forums was more reflective and they were able to put more thought into their postings and express themselves more clearly (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006). Percy (2003) questioned the effectiveness of the online crit as a vehicle for critical debate and suggested that teachers prepare students to be more versed in the skills of critical discourse.

Like all learning technologies, asynchronous discussion forums in and of themselves do not guarantee quality learning experiences. Success hinges on the alignment of curriculum and faculty and student interactions to the environments and technologies best suited to the learning goals. The true benefit of a blended approach to learning is the ability to match the appropriate learning task to the setting, integrating both spontaneous and reflective communication (Vaughan and Garrison, 2005, p. 4). In the case of the crit, the methods for working with asynchronous discussion technologies hinge on the appropriate application of a valid and robust critical thinking model to teaching and learning practices. This is essential to achieving deep levels of critical analysis in our design discussions.

This report outlines the strategies employed in adapting face-to-face crit practice to an online model. This restructuring takes place within the context of a ten-week graphic design foundations course (1121DF) in the Digital Graphic Design program at Vancouver Community College. The curriculum review and resulting restructuring is based on guiding principles and implications for practice derived from the literature. Critical thinking, blended learning and online discussion forums are the key components under review when considering taking the traditional crit online. An examination of these components are presented. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (COI) model is presented as a viable framework for the design of the online crit. The COI model is explored in the context of design education pedagogy and a justification for use within the context of restructuring the crit is presented.

Critical Thinking

Garrison (1991) defines critical thinking as a 5-stage process. Central to this definition of critical thinking and the skills required for practice, is an essential collaborative component. Interacting with others, the sharing of previous experience and group learning and validation are all key aspects of Garrison’s definition of critical thinking and related skills. These stages and associated skills are described in Table 1.

Table 1. Garrison’s 5 Stages of Critical Thinking (Garrison, 1991).



Stage 1: Problem Identification

Skill 1 – Elementary Clarification
Based on an initial motivation to learn, a 'triggering event' arouses and sustains interest and curiosity stimulated by interaction with others. Learners observe or study a problem, identify its elements, and observe their linkages in order to come to a basic understanding.

Stage 2: Problem Definition

Skill 2 – In-depth Clarification
Framing the problem and an approach to its solution using the experience of others. Learners analyze a problem to come to an understanding, which sheds light on the values, beliefs and assumptions, which underlie the statement of the problem.

Stage 3: Problem Exploration

Skill 3 – Inference
Getting insights and understanding based on self and group learning. The skills needed to extend beyond the basic definition include inference: induction and deduction, admitting or proposing an idea on the basis of its link with propositions already admitted as true. But they also include the creative skills needed to widen the field of possible solutions.

Stage 4: Problem Evaluation/Applicability

Skill 4 – Judgement
The evaluation of alternative solutions and new ideas within a social context. This needs judgemental skills of making decisions, statements, appreciations, evaluations and criticisms or "sizing up".

Stage 5: Problem Integration

Skill 5 – Strategy Formation
Proposing coordinated actions for the application of a solution, or following through on a choice or decision. This draws upon existing personal knowledge, but is then validated within the group. This is the stage where the solutions are grounded back in the real world.

This definition of critical thinking possesses deep roots in critical thinking research and aligns well with the problem-based nature of design curriculum and industry practice.

Critical thinking is reported in the literature as being a high-order cognitive activity. Perhaps one of the most referenced and applied works is that of Benjamin Bloom who in 1956 developed a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important to learning (Athanassiou, McNett, Harvey, 2003, p. 537). Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy includes three overlapping domains: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The activity of critical thinking is embodied within Bloom’s cognitive domain, which consists of six levels of cognitive activities summarized in Table 2.

Table 2. Bloom’s Six Levels of the Cognitive Domain (Bloom, 1956).

Cognitive Level

Intellectual Activity


Arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce, state.


Classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select, translate.


Apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.


Analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test.


Arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, write.


Appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose, compare, defend, estimate, judge, predict, rate, score, select, support, value, evaluate.

It is the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation that are among the higher-order thinking skills that constitute critical thinking. These three levels are the key cognitive domains linked to the goals of the crit.

A Framework for Cultivating Critical Thinking in Online Discussion Forums

The need to improve and assess critical thinking skills among undergraduate students in general has led to the development of a multitude of frameworks attempting to identify and measure the optimal learning landscape for promoting higher order thinking. The ‘Community of Inquiry’ (COI) framework created by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) has received a great deal of attention within the research qualifying and quantifying critical thinking and discourse in online discussion forums. The COI framework follows a collaborative constructivist perspective (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000, p. 92) that is conducive to the pedagogy of design studies. An atmosphere of trust and security and openness is critical to creativity and critical analysis (Danvers 2003, p. 45).

In a study comparing four frames of analysis, Meyer (2004) reports that the COI model is best suited to measure higher-order thinking levels, namely analysis and synthesis (p. 111). The COI framework is easily understood by faculty and presents a clear model for approaching collaboration, high order cognitive skill construction and guidance for course design, teaching and facilitating. The framework provides a validated methodology for quantifying the level of critical thinking taking place within online discussions.

Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) contend that critical thinking and discourse is best modeled through the establishment and support of three interdependent presences: cognitive, social and teaching presences.

Cognitive Presence

Cognitive presence reflects much of Garrison’s earlier work relating to the five stages of critical thinking. Cognitive presence is defined as “the extent to which learners are able to construct and conform meaning through sustained reflection and discourse” (Garrison and Arbaugh, 2007). Cognitive presence is the element most basic to success in higher education. The four indicators of cognitive presence are presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Indicators of Cognitive Presence (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).



1. Triggering Event

Sense of puzzlement/dissonance.
Perplexing and confusing situation.
Recognizing the problem.

2. Exploration

Information exchange.
Research for information, knowledge, alternatives, clarification, orientation.

3. Integration

Connecting ideas.
Knowledge transforms into coherent ideas, concepts, insights and understanding of acquired knowledge.

4. Resolution

Applying new ideas
Application of idea or hypothesis – confirmed or continue process of inquiry.
Critically assess solutions.

The aspects of cognitive presence that integrate well with an online crit relate to how indicators coincide with the design process utilized in design practice. Triggering event, exploration and integration indicators align with the problem definition, strategy (research), conceptual, design and craft (production) stages of the design process. The resolution indicator aligns with the critique component of the design process. In the critique phase students critically assess their projects, examine alternative perspectives and continue to work on strengthening solutions. The alignment of learning tasks to the appropriate phase of both design process and cognitive indicators will ensure that students construct a strong foundation for critical analysis and evaluation.

Figure 1: Indicators of Cognitive Presence and 1211DF Design Process

Much of the research focused on enhancing cognitive presence reports the difficulty in moving students through the cycle of inquiry past exploration phases to integration and resolution phases. Meyer (2003) reports that teaching presence may be a factor, since integration and resolution are more demanding phases and teachers are required to be more directive, to actively facilitate discussion and to provide more time for reflection. Faculty need to ensure that the activities and questioning intended to solicit higher levels of critical thinking provide enough substance for students to “dig into” Bullen (1998). An online crit could provide more opportunity and improved time management for interjecting crit activities into all design phases in order to promote more reflection and deeper analysis and discussion throughout the entire design process.

Social Presence

Social presence is defined as the ability of participants in the COI to project their personal characteristics, both socially and emotionally into the community. The function of social presence is to facilitate the attainment of cognitive learning objectives by supporting critical thinking in a community of learners. Social presence facilitates affective learning objectives by making group interactions enjoyable and rewarding (Stodel, Thompson and MacDonald, 2006). Indicators and their respective categories are presented in Table 4.

Table 4. Indicators of Social Presence (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).



1. Emotional Expression

Autobiographical narratives.
Use of emoticons or alternative signs that express verbal cues.
Ability and confidence to express feelings related to the educational experience and allow others to reciprocate.

2. Open Communication

Risk free expression.
Reciprocal and respectful exchanges.
Mutual awareness and recognition of each others contributions.
Self-esteem and impression management.
Respectfully attending to the comments of others.
Acknowledging and encouraging others.

3. Group Cohesion

Encouraging collaboration.
Activities that build and sustain a sense of group commitment.
Sees oneself as part of a group, not individual, sense of belonging.
Focused collaborative communication that builds participation and empathy.
Encouraging collaboration and helping support others.

For Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2001) social presence marks a qualitative difference between a collaborative community of inquiry and a simple process of downloading information. The detectable difference in a COI is the tone of the communication, questioning but engaging, expressive but responsive and skeptical and challenging but supportive. The establishment of social presence is perhaps one of the most researched elements within the COI framework. An analysis of the research on establishing social presence has yielded many implications for teaching and learning when structuring crit activities. Guiding principles for an online crit derived from these implications are summarized in Table 5.

Table 5. Guiding Principles for Establishing Social Presence.

Implication for Practice – Social Presence

Guiding Principles

Cognitive and social presences are closely tied to students’ perception of purposeful learning. ‘Getting to know you’ activities could be perceived as a waste of time (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Crit learning objectives require an explanation of their significance and meaning to the learning.

Crit learning objectives and tasks targeted for establishing social presence need to be rooted in the crit and program competencies.

In establishing social presence in an academic environment professionalism and social setting are equally important (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Crit objectives should balance academic achievement with the ability to take risks without penalty.

Crit learning objectives and tasks need to establish a balance between academic (formal) and social activity (informal).

“Students are conscious of how they perceive and how they are being perceived by others”. Students need to feel that they project and possess an honest representation of themselves and others (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Crit objectives and tasks should expand opportunities for students to represent themselves and their thoughts beyond words.

Social presence appears to be greater in smaller groups (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Crit objectives and tasks should be oriented for small groups. This is also supported by industry practice where small teams are the norm.

“Shared goals, trust and mutual support are features of high functioning communities” (Shea, Chun Sau & Pickette, 2006, p. 176).

Crit objectives should include the development of shared goals, trust and mutual support.

Focus should be on making the shared social identity salient, rather than the personal identity, so group goals, priorities, and norms are adhered to, rather that individual ones (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Crit objectives should focus on establishing shared identity of the group and group norms.

The ways in which social presence develops among students will change in the kinds of text-based social presence indicators employed over time (Swan & Shih, 2005). Group Cohesion indicators decrease as a course progresses, the use of interactive indicators increase and affective indicators, the most frequently used, remained about the same level (Swan, 2005).

Crit objectives and tasks should seek to establish group cohesion early in course.

Teaching Presence

Both cognitive and social presences require the support of teaching presence for the purpose of realizing educational outcomes. According to Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2001) the teacher models critical discourse and constructively critiques contributions in order to promote higher-order learning outcomes. Indicators of teaching presence and their respective categories are presented in Table 6.

Table 6. Indicators of Teaching Presence (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).



1. Design and Organization

Structuring content.
Setting discussion topics.
Setting curriculum, designing methods and assessments, establishing time parameters and utilizing the medium.
Planning issues – before and during the educational experience.
Setting explicit and implicit structural parameters and organizational guidelines.
Establishing group discussions.

2. Facilitating Discourse

Challenge and stimulate (preserving academic integrity, maintain effective group consciousness for the purpose of shared meaning, identifying agreement, disagreement and reaching consensus and understanding).
Facilitates educational transaction.
Sharing personal meaning.

3. Direct Instruction

Question proactively and guide
Focusing and pacing discussion
Summarizing learning outcomes and surveys

Categories of teaching presence and the activities comprising them appear to be slightly contentious in the literature. Some studies dispute the number of indicators (Shea, Chun Sau & Pickette 2006) as well as the alignment of categories and activities (Arbaugh and Hwang, 2006). Despite the disagreement on the labeling and alignment of indicators and categories, there is no disagreement about the importance of design, facilitation and instructional activities to enhance critical discourse. Implications for practice derived from an analysis of the research on teaching presence and associated guiding principles are summarized in Table 7.

Table 7: Guiding Principles for Establishing Teaching Presence

Implication for Practice — Teaching Presence

Guiding Principles

Discussion topics and grading rubrics, which encourage the sharing of personal experiences, are especially supportive of the development of social presence (Swan & Shih, 2005).

Crit objectives and tasks should seek ways to evoke personal experience in discussion starters.

Clear parameters for due dates and deadlines contribute to the online learning community as do clear course goals, course topics, and instructions on how to effectively and appropriately participate in the course (Shea, Chun Sau & Pickette, 2006).

Crit objectives should include an orientation outlining clear parameters for assignments, assessments, deadlines, participation and communication.

Getting to know people better was attributed to different course content and that there was not a centralized topic of interest, but instead many different research areas the learners were interested in… learners were “excited to get into a hot discussion about the topic” (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Crit objectives and tasks should allow students to take multiple approaches to achieving them.

Students are motivated when the teacher learner relationship involves a mutual learning experience (Perry & Edwards, 2004, p. 7).

Crit objectives and tasks should provide for a wide range of discussion that may reach beyond the knowledge level of the instructor.

Social and teaching presences are closely tied to student satisfaction with instructors (Richardson & Swan, 2003, p. 70) (Arbaugh & Benbunan-Fich, 2006).

Instructors need to be seen as actively involved in discussions.

Online educators are affirmers. Students identified with instructors who found opportunities to let their students know that they were succeeding in their studies and to encourage them in their learning. Affirmation of the learner by the online educator assists in creating a positive, supportive learning climate (Perry & Edwards, 2004, p. 5).

Instructors need to affirm students by recognizing their potential, treating learners with respect and recognizing potential problems and taking actions to assist.

A quality learning experience entails the ability of the online learning experience to respond to and even drive evolving and budding tangents as they surface (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006).

Course should lend itself to rapid redesign and responsiveness to emerging student learning needs.

These resulting guiding principles provide a launching point for restructuring 1121DF curriculum for blended delivery of crit components through asynchronous discussion technologies.

Blended Teaching and Learning

Bates (2005) identifies two key questions in relation to blended course development, “what is educationally advantageous in face-to-face teaching, and when can face-to-face be replaced with gain or without loss by online teaching” (p. 136).

Face-to-face settings are reported as being best suited to allow personal relationships and a sense of community to develop, creating a climate for sharing ideas (Vaughan and Garrison, 2005, p. 4). Activities appropriate for the face-to-face environment include, initiating the discussion of new ideas, becoming more aware of different discipline perspectives (p. 4), spontaneous and enthusiastic fast-paced discussion, brainstorming, visual demonstrations and topics where energy and enthusiasm can contribute to the success of the discussion (Meyer, 2003, p. 63).

Figure 2 indicates the setting best suited for the design process phases and corresponding indicators of cognitive presence. Components of the design process that speak best to face-to-face setting characteristics are problem identification, strategy and concept development. Problem identification in industry is led by the art director or client and by the instructor in an education setting. The strategy and concept development phases are most productive when fast-paced idea generation and dynamic brainstorming take place in large or small face-to-face groups. Aspects of strategy and concept development could be moved to an online environment when the results (ideas) require some percolating, reflective consideration and refinement. The integration phase involves the hands-on practice of design and is carried out in the face-to-face classroom. The critique component of the design process is heavily reflective and well suited for online discussions.

Figure 2: Preferred delivery mode for design process phases and cognitive presence indicators

The effectiveness of blended learning and online discussions are heavily impacted by student characteristics and perceptions about their learning. Students who have little to no experience with online discussion forums have reported a less than satisfactory learning experience (Bullen, 1998). This verifies the importance of an orientation introducing the discussion technology and how to participate in online discussions. The student who learns or processes information by talking and who enjoys the give-and-take of discussion may feel disadvantaged in the online setting; the student who requires reflection to learn or construct an answer may be disadvantaged in a face-to-face setting (Meyer, 2003, p. 62). Therefore, offering a mix of ways to be involved in discussion may well improve the likelihood that most students will find an avenue for contributing that satisfies their learning needs (Meyer, 2003, p. 62). Students perceive online discussions as more equitable and democratic than traditional classrooms (Swan & Shih, 2005). Perception of equitability and greater time for reflection create mindfulness among students and a culture of refection (Swan, 2005). Students have reported that they preferred the ability to slow the pace of communication and clarify points when necessary and/or go back and review postings (Stodel, Thompson, MacDonald, 2006). Students perceive online discussions as a public medium and take more care in preparing written responses, “lest their peers see and judge them on their writing skill” (Meyers, 2003, p. 63).

Challenges to the blended setting include an increased workload for students and faculty and lack of tested pedagogical models. The online discussion requires a marked expansion of the time devoted to a particular class and its material. While many students recognize this expansion as a drain on their time, many balanced this criticism with an appreciation that they got more from their discussion because it took time for them to recognize connections, understand others’ ideas, and develop and convey a detailed response or posting (Meyer, 2003, p. 60). The integration of online crit activities will need to carefully consider the allocation of face-to-face and blended teaching hours so as not to overwhelm both faculty and students.

The review of the literature presents many opportunities and insights for enhancing critical thinking and discourse through the use of blended learning and online discussion forums. This project will utilize the experience of previous researchers to guide the development of the online crit curriculum and new blended learning format for 1121DF.

A Curriculum Review

The review of the literature led to a review of the curriculum of a ten-week design foundations course (1121DF). Curriculum was reviewed and restructured to accommodate an online critique using asynchronous discussion technologies. New learning goals and objectives (goal sets) for the online crit were derived from the implications for practice and guiding principles resulting from the literature review.

Order of Development

The review of the literature indicates that cognitive presence is supported by both social and teaching presence. As cognitive presence forms the basis of the curriculum, cognitive goal sets were developed first. Social presence goal sets, which support cognitive components, were developed second. Third, guiding principles relating to teaching presence resulted in direct goal sets and also served as a strong influence for informing facilitation and direct instruction. New goal sets were aligned to Bloom’s cognitive domains to ensure that they aligned with existing curriculum scaffolding. These new goal sets are presented in Appendix A.

Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s (2000) cognitive indicators were then aligned to the curriculum delivery and the most suitable delivery method was determined. The course summary aligning goal sets, program competencies, delivery timeline, cognitive domain, and COI presence indicators is presented in Appendix B.

Cognitive Presence Goal Sets

An online discussion forum is appropriate for all cognitive presence goal sets as each goal set is best suited to a setting where students are afforded time for written reflection. Each cognitive goal set possesses a reflective component where students discuss their experience of a visual solution. The resulting cognitive goal sets and COI indicator alignments are outlined in Table 8.

Table 8. Cognitive Presence Goal Sets, Domain and COI Indicator Alignments.



A. Articulate Knowledge of Design Elements
B. Articulate Knowledge of Colour

Goals A and B require knowledge, comprehension and application cognitive levels. These goals align to the triggering event and exploration indicators of cognitive presence. Students are introduced to vocabularies and are exploring new design concepts and techniques.

C. Examine and Analyze Type

Goal C requires knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis cognitive levels. While the project focus intensifies to include a closer analysis of the topic, curriculum does not move beyond the triggering and exploration indicators of cognitive presence. Students are introduced to vocabularies, classification systems and significant historical perspectives.

D. Appraise Composition
E. Appraise Type and Image Relationships
F. Appraise Design Solution

Cognitive goals D through F incorporate the higher-order cognitive levels of synthesis and evaluation. Curriculum makes the critical transition from triggering event and exploration to integration and resolution indicators of cognitive presence.

Students are integrating what they have learned to date and begin to solve problems. Students transition from practicing vocabularies, descriptions and explanations to participating in the critical discussion of intent, subject matter, interpretation, form, sources of influence and theoretical perspectives. This transition requires a concerted effort of the facilitator as student discussion requires affirmation, challenge and encouragement.

Establishing Social Presence

Social goal sets were established in the same manner as described above to the extent that goals were created first and aligned with existing curriculum, cognitive levels and timeline. Subsequent objectives were developed to reflect the guiding principles derived from the literature. It is recognized by the researcher that the future learning tasks and activities associated with these goal sets will need to be carefully constructed and distributed throughout the course if social presence is to be adequately established and sustained. The resulting social presence goal sets and COI indicator alignments are outlined in Table 9.

Table 9. Social Presence Goal Sets, Domain and COI Indicator Alignments.


Purpose and Delivery Setting

G. Establish an Online Presence

Goal G and related tasks are intended to establish the emotional expression and open communication indicators of social presence.

Online delivery is suitable for this goal set as students become acquainted with their classmates’ and own online representations. This goal set is reflective in nature and is supported by the delayed pace of online discussion.

H. Create a Productive Team

Goal H and related tasks are intended to establish group cohesion. The research indicates that the use of small peer groups has been successful in the delivery of the crit (Chadwick & Crotch, 2006) and in establishing social presence.

The research indicates that group cohesion may be best established in a face-to-face environment, as online learners are more independent (Garrison, 2006). Objectives within this goal set which introduce a discussion topic (H1 Identify goals of the group, H3 Identify group diversity, H5 Identify group barriers, H7 Establish group communication) will take place in a face-to-face setting.

Objectives that result in group declarations (H2 Establish team commitment to course goals, H4 Establish methods for respecting group diversity, H6 Create a plan to overcome barriers, H8 Establish methods for resolving conflict within the group, H9 Outline group responsibilities to each other and the greater group) are completed online for two reasons. First, the resulting online discussion is a public record of group consensus that may serve as a common agreement between group members in relation to accepted norms and behaviors. Second, practicing online group activities will serve to “maintain and enhance a sense of group cohesion, collaboration and support” (Garrison, 2006).

Establishing Teaching Presence

These goal sets support the course design and organization indicators of teaching presence. It is recognized by the researcher that the resulting three goal sets do not establish teaching presence alone. Facilitating discourse and direct instruction indicators greatly impacts all COI presences. Guiding principles outlined in the research must be integrated into teaching practice if the online crit is to become a productive community of inquiry. Teaching presence goal sets, purpose and delivery setting are outlined in Table 10.

Table 10. Teaching Presence Goal Sets, Purpose and Delivery Setting.


Purpose and Delivery Setting

I. Utilize VLE & Discussion Board

Goal I orients the student to the VLE and Moodle’s discussion forum. Objectives focus on structural parameters, organizational guidelines and effective methods for participation in discussion.

This goal set is delivered in a face-to-face setting in order to support students as they become familiar with the VLE. There is limited technical support offered to student through the VCC helpline. Face-to-face delivery will help to offer this support to students.

J. Recognize the Purpose of the Crit

Goal J prepares the student for participation in the crit. Objectives address the significance and purpose of the crit and critical thinking and discussion. This goal set is best delivered in a face-to-face setting, as some components of these objectives are abstract and reliance on the instructor is initially higher.

K. Recognize Appropriate Methods of Participating in the Crit

Goal K prepares the student for respectful participation in the crit. Objectives address methods for the give and take involved in the critical analysis of their work. This goal set is best suited for face-to-face delivery as activities could conceivably entail fast-paced dynamic discussion. However, this viewpoint is slightly contentious, as activities suitable for online discussion could be considered equally effective.


The challenge of creating an online crit model where critical thinking and discourse thrives is addressed through the presented goal sets. These goal sets embody the methods and techniques essential to a fully participative community of inquiry. The learning and teaching opportunities offered through the integration of online and face-to-face discussion and collaboration adds considerable value to the resulting model. The promise of this new crit model can only be validated through future observation and testing. The next step in development may result in the knowledge that the established goals sets are incomplete or require refinement.

As the new online crit model is constructed to acculturate design students to critical analysis and discourse, it cannot be forgotten that these students will eventually transition to employment where they are expected to verbalize this analysis. As 1121DF is a foundational course, subsequent courses that involve more real-world projects will need to balance both written (online) and verbal (face-to-face) forms of critique to best prepare students for employment. Alternative technologies, such as video and audio may enhance the online crit experience while overcoming limited access to classroom facilities. Online collaborative documents, mind-mapping tools and e-portfolios are all viable technologies that offer unique teaching and learning opportunities that could enhance the model presented in this review.

While the resulting artefact of this project supports student preparation for an online crit, it does not address faculty preparation. A facilitation and direct instruction guide is required if faculty are expected to adequately support this model.

The true test of this artefact will need to employ Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s (2000) assessment framework to measure the outcome of the online crit. An analysis of discussion threads containing the critical discussions of students will ultimately inform the researcher of the true effectiveness of this model.


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Stodel, E. J., Thompson, T.L., & MacDonald, C.J. (2006). Learners’ perspectives on what is missing from online learning: Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(3). Retrieved February 12, 2008 from

Swan, K., & Shih, L.F. (2005). On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(3), 115-136. Retrieved February 18, 2008 from

Vaughan, N., & Garrison, R. (2005). Creating cognitive presence in a blended faculty development community. The Internet and Higher Education, 8, 1-12.

Appendix A – Goals and Objectives for the Online Crit

Appendix B – 1121DF Course Summary

Tene C. Barber. Instructor, Digital Graphic Design Program, Vancouver Community College. E-mail: