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Assessing cognitive, social and teaching presences during emergency remote teaching at a South African university

Zayd Waghid (Faculty of Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa)
Lawrence Meda (Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Jane Adhiambo Chiroma (Pan Africa Christian University, Nairobi, Kenya)

International Journal of Information and Learning Technology

ISSN: 2056-4880

Article publication date: 20 August 2021

Issue publication date: 25 October 2021




This study aims to examine how lecturers at a South African university navigated teaching and learning in the current educational landscape obscured by the global pandemic. The authors examine how lecturers employed a community of inquiry (CoI) in their online classrooms within the context of emergency remote teaching (ERT). The study further aims to ascertain students’ feedback concerning current ERT practices at the university toward cultivating a CoI. Doing this would offer more appropriate interventions and support for lecturers and students from, within and for an African context. If not, instructors might risk reproducing and perpetuating the same outdated pedagogies before the pandemic.


A mixed-method research design informed by a pragmatist paradigm was used. Primary data were collected from 40 lecturers at the university through online questionnaires of which 10 lecturers responded to e-mail interviews. The original CoI survey was distributed among 150 students in the Faculty of Education at the university.


The findings revealed that, despite the rushed and trial nature of the use of ERT, there were instances of a CoI among students. The findings further revealed that the majority of the lecturers were not adequately prepared for ERT as a result of limited experience with asynchronous and synchronous online teaching. There was evidence of an absence of a strong active teaching presence that was found to have negatively influenced the development of social and cognitive presences during ERT.

Research limitations/implications

Only a single faculty at one university was selected in this single case.

Practical implications

The results of the study have significant implications for faculties and academic staff who are currently teaching online in response to the teaching challenges paused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings will assist lecturers in developing appropriate pedagogical intervention strategies to enhance strong and active teaching and social presences necessary for cultivating the cognitive presences among students during ERT.


This is one of the first empirical studies to explore the influence of ERT on the cognitive, social and teaching presences at a university in an African context. The findings and conclusion of the study are novel as they relate to the development of appropriate pedagogical practices and intervention strategies suitable for ERT in response to the current education crisis.



The authors would like to thank the Faculty of Education’s Ethics Committee for granting us the opportunity to conduct research in the Faculty concerning Emergency Remote Teaching. The authors would also like to thank the lecturers who participated in the semi-structured interviews for offering their valuable insights and opinions concerning advancing Emergency Remote Teaching in response to a higher education crisis.


Waghid, Z., Meda, L. and Chiroma, J.A. (2021), "Assessing cognitive, social and teaching presences during emergency remote teaching at a South African university", International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, Vol. 38 No. 5, pp. 413-432.



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