Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

Teacher

Teacher Presence: A given in the face-to-face classroom (flickr - CC)

Establishing instructor presence in the online classroom is one of the many challenges for the teacher in the online environment. Is it possible to establish a sense of ‘being there’, a climate for learning and student engagement  while not being physically ‘there’? In my last post we saw an excellent video introducing the concept –  let’s dig in a bit further.

From a student’s perspective
First, let me describe how I would define instructor presence from a student’s perspective. I’ve taken several online courses, and currently I’m enrolled in two. I’ve felt when a prof is there and part of the class, and when the prof is MIA [missing in action] or in absentia. Let me use an analogy of a ghost town to help describe it – a ghost town has the facade of a ‘normal’ town, but is empty – eerie and … lonely. This is what it can feel like when logging onto a course home page, without an instructor being involved, it seems empty  :(.

The online classroom without instructor presence - similar to a Ghost Town (istock image)

This sense of non-instructor involvement can be somewhat unnerving for the student, and potentially overwhelming all at the same time.  I do realize that most  professors may be completely unaware of how their students feel. Hence my effort to explain it – though professor presence is a rather elusive concept.

The Instructor’s Role
The instructor’s role is critical to learning, whether in the face-to-face classroom or online. Studies on distance learning supports the assumption that instructor-to-student, and student-to-student (social presence) interaction is a critical component of learning, and an important factor in learner satisfaction, which leads to learning effectiveness. According to research by Blignaut and Trollip, “Being silent [the instructor] in an online classroom is equivalent to being invisible” and “presence requires action”.

How to Create Online Presence
Though not a tremendous amount of research in this area, there are some solid resources to draw from. As mentioned in previous posts, the book from Jossey Bass, Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Learning  is a good place to start. Below are several other suggestions from available literature:

  • Online instructors’ participation in the online course discussion threads is essential.
  • As stated by one instructor, “When you teach in the classroom, you talk; when you teach online, you participate in threaded discussions. If an instructor is not participating in the threaded discussions, the course becomes a correspondence event rather than an online learning experience.”
  • Use announcement forums or professor news board [within your lms] to communicate with students collectively throughout each week – this helps maintain the focus on learning objectives.
  • Use email, Skype, video messages and/or  feedback on student submitted assignments for instructor-student communication.
  • Instructor presence in the online classroom requires careful planning and foresight, at the earliest stages of course development.
  • Further to the above comment, creating instructor or teaching presence, involves creating a carefully designed course (see diagram below) involving opportunities for interaction and feedback. Threaded discussions are a backbone to interaction.

Published on EdTechTalk (http://edtechtalk.com)