Topic 04: Design for Online and Blended Learning

This week was another opportunity to add to my list of reading resources that could contribute to my teaching practice. During the Topic 01 weeks, my group’s focus was digital confidence and efficacy. The Three Dimensions of Openness surfaced during Topic 02. It made me think about how I can evaluate existing and build new Open Educational Practices for teaching and processes in Aalto Fablab. Topic 03 made me think about the concept of networked collaborative learning and how my involvement in Fab Academy relates to that.

This topic seems to be an excellent opportunity to think about the design of the Fab Academy and its academic overlay courses at Aalto University. In collaboration with Matti Niinimäki, I designed four courses that allow students of Aalto University to earn credits from participation in the Fab Academy. Typically, Fab Academy has a fee, but it is for free as a set of university courses. One caveat is that students do not get the international Fab Academy diploma for free. It remains a choice for them to spend that extra money to acquire the international certification.

I mentioned that I “designed” the courses as if I could not change the design at this point. There are a few things that I cannot change, such as the course schedule, but there is a lot of freedom in terms of knowledge transfer, assignments, learner motivation, and feedback, among other things. As stated above, Topic 04 seems a good space to take a deeper dive into the design of the course and identify some parts that I can improve.

I located the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Educator Survey 1 in the list of recommendations for my reflective blog post on the ONL website. It captured my attention, and it will help me understand the beforementioned Fab Academy courses better. Before doing that, I would like to understand the context of the survey. For that reason, I will read related parts from Guide to Blended Learning 2, which contains the survey as an appendix.

As stated in the Guide to Blended Learning book, the Community of Inquiry model is based on the work of John Dewey. Furthermore, CoI is also related to constructivist views of experiential learning. The CoI framework describes what elements are needed to create deep and meaningful learning. The CoI framework identifies the education experience as a result of three overlapping components: cognitive, teaching, and social, and it is one of two proposed frameworks for the successful implementation of blended learning. The other is called the Complex Adaptive Blended Learning System (CABLS).

While reading the chapter Seven Blended Learning Structures in Education in the Guide to Blended Learning, I discovered MIT’s Circuits and Electronics course 3. San Jose State University used it in a blended MOOC experiment. It immediately triggered an association with the Fab Academy as it is a course that emerged from the How to Make (Almost) Anything course at MIT 4. Both are available on the MIT OpenCourseWare platform 5, a free online course materials repository. The Circuits and Electronics course and the OpenCourseWare platform itself are something new for me to explore to improve my instructor role in the Fab Academy.

I did fill in the CoI survey and got a score of 122. The question is how to evaluate that, and how can it guide me?

I found an entry point on page 62 in the Using Community of Inquiry Indicators to Assess Presence in Blended Learning section. It is part of Chapter 8: Evaluating Successful Blended Learning. The chapter describes blended learning as a mix of online and face-to-face learning methods. It also states that the selection of methods can become a complicated process.

So what about using CoI to assess presence in blended learning? The survey instrument shows how to use item indicators to test course activities concerning each type of presence: social, cognitive, teaching, and emotional.

I will pick three items from the survey with the lowest score and describe how to improve them.

Item 19, item indicator CP (Cognitive Presence): Brainstorming and finding relevant information help students resolve content-related questions. My score: 1. The reason why the score is only 1 is that I do not use brainstorming at all. I could improve this by allocating brainstorming sessions during our synchronous learning activities. It could help build a student-centered list of learning materials, thus motivating them to engage more in the learning process.

Item 13, item indicator CP (Cognitive Presence): Reflection on course content and discussions helps students understand the fundamental concept. My score: 3. The course is very intense, and there is little room for reflection. Some reflection happens during the documentation phase of each weekly assignment, but not everybody does it. Student reflection is something that I could add to the list of improvements. It could be another student-centered activity during the synchronous events of the course.

Item 10, item indicator TP (Teaching Presence): I provide feedback that helps students understand their strengths and weaknesses relative to the course goals and objectives. My score: 3. I sometimes feel that I am not giving enough feedback. Giving feedback is a complicated thing. Often, a student is frustrated and wants input right now, right there. I am often not mentally prepared to provide that feedback, which leads to a moment of lost enthusiasm. I can see that my behavior makes students ask fewer questions. The way to improve that is to organize my time so that students know when I am available. I should choose to stay outside the lab when students cannot disturb me to avoid random interactions.

These are only a few of my thoughts on improving my teaching. Coming back to a question on the ONL Topic 4 course page: are all three presences represented? First of all, after reading The Guide to Blended Learning which contains the CoI survey, we end up with four presences, emotional being the number four. I can say that the course represents all four presences. I think that emotional presence is an important one. Creating a sense of community within the course is another challenge. It is less of a problem if students come from the same department and year.

I will now further explore the Guide to Blended Learning guidebook and try to develop more ways to improve my courses.


  1. M. Cleveland-Innes and D. Wilton, “Appendix I. Community of Inquiry Blended Learning Evaluation,” in Guide to Blended Learning, Commonwealth of Learning, 2018, pp. 74–77. ↩︎

  2. M. Cleveland-Innes and D. Wilton, Guide to Blended Learning. Commonwealth of Learning, 2018. ↩︎

  3. A. Anant, “Circuits and Electronics,” MIT OpenCourseWare. (accessed Dec. 19, 2021). ↩︎

  4. C. Isaac and G. Neil, “How to Make (Almost) Anything,” MIT OpenCourseWare. (accessed Dec. 19, 2021). ↩︎

  5. “MIT OpenCourseWare | Free Online Course Materials.” (accessed Dec. 19, 2021). ↩︎



Hi, my name is Krisjanis Rijnieks, I come from Riga, Latvia and am currently a part of Aalto Fablab, Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. I made this blog to document my participation in the Open Networked Learning (ONL) course.

I am interested in ONL because I am teaching another globally distributed course known as the Fab Academy. In ONL I expect to find new methods that I could use in my future practice.