Social Learning Environments in Design Education: Challenges of project-based learning in Communities of Inquiry


Design Education is usually determined by creative, student-centered and highly active learning processes like projects. For the design and realisation especially of digital project-based learning with social learning environments, teachers need essential experience which should be questioned best after each project. Design and Research Models like the Community of Inquiry Framework could be helpful for a reflective and structured view on the own teaching. How could such a framework be used for the evaluation of digital project-based learning? What are possible research findings and how could these be included in the teaching practice? With the introduction of a research project at Köln International School of Design these and other questions and perspectives will be discussed in the presentation.


This presentation will give insights into the practice of digital project-based learning within social learning environments. We will see teaching opportunities and challenges and ways to plan, practice and research such learning scenarios.


Project-based learning is crucial in Design Education. In this student-centered teaching approach, students organize themselves independently, work out solutions for real world problems and design concepts, services or products. Projects facilitate the shift from teaching to learning and create a practice-oriented, interactive and engaging learning environment for learners and teachers.

Project based learning is also a demanding teaching approach and it implies a role change for teachers and students. Students take the responsibility for their own learning within a Community of Inquiry (COI). In active exchange they elaborate assumptions, ideas and conclusions and discuss them critically (see Lipman 2003: 20). Within these processes lecturers serve as facilitators and consultants. In the beginning of the project, they act as a "sage on stage" by introducing the project topics and process to the students. They increasingly change their role to a "guide on side“ during the project, giving the students the responsibility for the project organisation and outcome (see Garrison 2011: 59, King 1993: 30) but they have still to actively accompany the students in order to motivate and prevent a decrease in activity especially, during the critical last stages of the project (see Kaliva 2016: 134).

When digital learning platforms are used, the teaching effort in projects increases. The digital tool should take the requirements of project-based learning into account and provide a trustworthy and authentic collaboration environment. The lecturer must prepare the use of the platform properly and support the students during their off and online activities. S/he should know the challenges during each project phase and act accordingly to ensure a successful and satisfactory project. Projects are also dynamic and unpredictable learning scenarios. Each project provides special insights and can lead to new experiences for students and teachers. Those should be analysed and reflected upon for further projects. An effective tool for the design and research of digital projects is the Community of Inquiry Framework. According to this, the development of three “Presences” influences and supports an educational Community of Inquiry: the Teaching Presence, the Social Presence and the Cognitive Presence. The COI-Framework also offers a theoretical base, which supports the reflective and meaningful planning of online project based learning, also empirical tools for analysing and researching digital teaching and learning scenarios.

In the research for my doctoral degree, three different projects at the Köln International School of Design (KISD) were evaluated based on the COI-Framework. At KISD the WordPress-based Social Learning Environment KISDspaces is used to support project-based learning online. The evaluation of the projects showed that the Community of Inquiry, which was developed within the project, affects the active participation of the students in KISDspaces. A strong Community of Inquiry leads to a higher activity of the students on the platform during all project phases. A positive perception of a community also has an effect on the acceptance of KISDspaces in the project. Students value their media-use more positively.

The results of my research led to the modeling of didactical implications for the use of Social Learning Environment in project-based learning. For a further research, improvement and integration of the results in our faculty we use workshops with lecturers. The focus in the workshops is on teaching activities during each blended learning project phase for the development of an active and vivid Community of Inquiry. The teachers are in the workshops actively involved in the design of digital project learning at KISD and are also part in the evolving of KISDspaces.

In this presentation the findings of the internal research of projects based on the COI-Framework and the results of two workshops with teachers at the Köln International School of Design and the Cologne Game Lab will be shown and discussed with the audience.

List of Cited Literature

Garrison, Randy (2011). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. 2nd edition. New York: Taylor & Francis
Kaliva. Elisabeth (2016): Didaktische Implikationen des projektbasierten Lernens beim Einsatz von Social Learning Environments in Hochschulen. Glückstadt: VWH-Verlag
King, Alison (1993). "From sage on the stage to guide on the side." In: College Teaching, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Winter, 1993), pp. 30-35
Lipman, Matthew (2003). Thinking in education. 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press