What is online presence?
If you ask a student of online learning to define ‘instructor presence’ in the context of an asynchronous online course, you won’t get a textbook definition – but will likely hear phrases such as [the prof is] “really busy”, “not answering my emails”, or “missing in action”, “absent”. These are actual phrases I’ve heard from fellow classmates in online courses I’ve taken and from students I know taking online courses. Online presence is elusive – yet, as we’ve identified, students can sense when the prof is not present – hellooooo – is anyone there?
I am exaggerating – somewhat – but as online educators we need to take this concept seriously, define and understand what online presence is, and then CREATE online presence in our courses if we want courses that support higher order thinking skills and effective learning outcomes. Inherent to online learning are challenges and opportunities – but the potential is great for reaching students not able to take course(s) otherwise.
Online Presence – Defined
There are several definitions of online presence, but I think the best term to describe online presence is ‘being there’ and ‘being together’ (Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching). Students learn best when the technology becomes transparent, in other words when the tools (i.e. laptop, learning management system) that bring the learning to the student, fade into the background. Online learning should not about the technology but about the learning interactions – and being there.
We can examine online presence from three dimensions: social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence. By incorporating the three dimensions into an online course – true and authentic learning is possible with higher order thinking skills engaged. Below I briefly address teaching presence, and I’ll cover social and cognitive presence in later posts. The diagram to the left illustrates how the three dimensions intersect to create the educational experience, though I prefer to state is as the student’s successful achievement of learning outcomes.
Instructing a class of students in an online environment takes a completely different set of skills and tactics than face-to-face teaching, online teaching is unique in that students are in a different time and space than the professor, yet require structure and guidance. This is where the role of the online instructor comes in – guiding and structuring and communicating. Check back for other posts this week on strategies and more ideas for creating teaching presence!
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, (2000), Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education