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Six Activities and Apps for Launching a Learning Community in Online Teaching

Written by Dr. Candace Chou

One of the biggest challenges in online teaching is to build a learning community. The Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework (Garrison et al., 2000) advocates building a holistic online learning environment by leveraging three interdependent components: social, cognitive, and teaching presence.

Cognitive presence denotes the design and implementation of learning content to enhance student performance. Specific activities can include project-based learning, formative assessment, student-led discussion, student-created assessment questions, reflection journals, jigsaw, teamwork, exemplary work, comprehensive rubrics, etc. Social presence focuses on the social interaction among learners and with instructors. The activities in building a strong social presence include, but are not limited to, first-week welcome messages, weekly announcements, communication netiquette, ice breakers, Q & A forum, backchannel chat during lectures, peer-review assignments with clear rubrics, etc. Teaching presence refers to how teachers present themselves through the communication and interaction with learners. Specific examples of teaching presence can include video lectures, office hours, student check-in, mid-semester individual student progress reports, individualized comments to assignments, timely feedback, explaining assignments to allow questions, etc.

In an online learning environment, leveraging emerging tools is vital to building a successful community of inquiry. In Table one and Figure one, you will find a few tools to strengthen the three presences through both synchronous and asynchronous activities.


Dr. Candace Chou

Professor, School of Education

Table 1: Activities and Apps to Strengthen Online Community


Cognitive Presence

Social Presence

Teaching Presence

Synchronous activities

PearDeck Slides

Wheel of Questions

Jamboard groups

Asynchronous activities

Padlet bookmarks

Flipgrid introduction

Bitmoji classroom

*Click the links above to learn more about the six apps to enable online learning
Cognitive Presence

  • Asynchronous activity:
    • Encourage students to organize their learning using the bookmark feature of Padlet. They can create their top ten resources from a course using Padlet with great visuals and hyperlinks (figure 1).
  • Synchronous activity:
    • An interactive lecture should encourage students to connect with prior knowledge, reflect on their learning, and try out new ideas. PearDeck provides ready-made templates for instructors to embed the questions prompts into Google Slides. The template library includes questions for critical thinking and main subject matters such as math, science, social studies, world languages, and ELA.

Social presence

  • Asynchronous activity:
    • Flipgrid offers threaded video discussion to enhance student-student and student-teacher interaction. Take self-introduction for example, in addition to introducing names and hobbies, students can also share two truths and one lie. Students can respond to each other’s posts by guessing the answers.
  • Synchronous activity:

Teaching Presence

  • Asynchronous activity:
    • Building a Bitmoji classroom allows instructors to create a personalized and welcoming learning environment. Instructors can create an avatar using the Bitmoji app and then use Google slide to create a virtual classroom with links to learning resources and contents as suggested in this article on using Bitmoji to build community and engagement.
  • Synchronous activity:
    • During a video conferencing, you can use Google Jamboard can facilitate problem-solving and meaningful conversation in small groups in breakout rooms. For example, The Problem of Practice activity enables a group of participants to act as consultants to solve-problems. Instructors can create a set Jamboard frames with clear instruction or question prompts for all groups. Students can color-code the questions and solutions and use an arrow to connect similar ideas.

The digital tools mentioned in this article can facilitate multiple presences. With a clear focus on the learning objectives and outcomes, you will be able to identify the best-fit tool for the learning activity. You can find more ideas for activities from the article “Applying the Community of Inquiry Framework.” To learn more about innovative ideas of technology integration, consider joining the Learning Technology Leadership and Innovation certificate graduate program.
Reference photo for six apps to facilitate online learning

Figure 1. Padlet for Class Bookmarks


Brookfield, S., & Preskill, S. (2016). The Discussion book: Fifty great ways to get people talking. Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

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