The Community of Inquiry in Writing Studies Survey: Interpreting Social Presence in Disciplinary Contexts


  • Mary K. Stewart California State University San Marcos
  • Lyra Hilliard University of Maryland
  • Natalie Stillman-Webb University of Utah
  • Jennifer M. Cunningham Kent State University



community of inquiry, first-year writing, blended, online, CoI survey


This article applies the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework to a particular disciplinary context: first-year writing (FYW). Students enrolled in online FYW courses across three institutions (n = 272) completed a version of the CoI survey that was slightly modified to fit the disciplinary context of writing studies. A factor analysis was conducted to determine how well the CoI in Writing Studies data aligned with typical CoI survey research; teaching presence and cognitive presence loaded onto single factors, but the social presence items divided into multiple factors. The authors put their findings in conversation with other scholarship about social presence, especially Carlon et al. (2012) and Kreijns et al. (2014), and advocate for differentiating between survey items that relate to “social presence,” “social comfort,” “attitude,” and “social learning.” They also recommend that future disciplinary uses of the CoI Survey include survey items that ask students to report on the extent to which they engaged in the types of social learning that the discipline values.

Author Biographies

Mary K. Stewart, California State University San Marcos

Mary K. Stewart is an Associate Professor and the General Education Writing Coordinator for the Literature & Writing Studies Department at California State University San Marcos. Her research focuses on collaborative and interactive learning, hybrid and online writing instruction, and teaching with technology. She teaches online undergraduate writing courses and graduate courses in online learning theory and pedagogy.

Lyra Hilliard, University of Maryland

Lyra Hilliard is the Coordinator of the Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Program in the Department of English, the Blended and Online Learning Coordinator of the Academic Writing Program, and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research areas include critical pedagogy, peer mentoring, blended and online writing instruction, and composition theory.

Natalie Stillman-Webb, University of Utah

Natalie Stillman-Webb is Professor-Lecturer and Coordinator of Online Writing Instruction in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah. Her research interests include writing in the disciplines, community engaged learning, usability, and online instructional design. She has been awarded several institutional grants to develop online writing courses, and teaches a graduate course in online writing pedagogy.

Jennifer M. Cunningham, Kent State University

Jennifer M. Cunningham is an Associate Professor and Writing Program Coordinator at Kent State University. Having a background in composition, linguistics, and education, her teaching and research center on the themes and connections among digital literacies, linguistics, and online pedagogies. She has developed and taught online versions of gender and language, composition theory, and FYC as well as a hybrid course for graduate teaching assistants and continues to research OWI and digital African American Language.


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Empirical Studies