Guide To Teaching and Learning

Instructor Presence in Online Courses

One of the strongest factors for student success and perseverance in a course is faculty-student interaction.

Faculty should use several different channels for connecting with students to increase student engagement with their asynchronous online courses, such as:

  • announcements on the homepage of the Canvas course
  • faculty interaction in discussion forums
  • emails to students
  • online lectures, presentations and demos
  • video and written comments
  • office hours or connect sessions and chats. 

According to researcher Randy Garrison, instructor presence, or “being there,” is the most important practice in online teaching. His Community of Inquiry (CoI) model names three distinct but interrelated forms of presence that, together, are integral to fostering community, trust and student learning. They are social, cognitive and teaching presence.

We will discuss Social and Cognitive presence in the section on Promoting Student Engagement. Here we give an overview of Teaching presence.

Teaching presence includes everything from selecting course readings to course design to course delivery. The goal is to engage students with the content, as opposed to the technology. To establish an effective teaching presence:

  • Let students get to know you. Share things about yourself, even if they are superficial, e.g. You won’t believe what my cat did…. Record and post short videos of yourself introducing the day’s lesson. Set the tone.
  • Set clear expectations and unsurprising course requirements.  Accompany this with consistent communication. Let students know their questions aren’t just welcomed, they’re expected. 
  • Nudge students to take on responsibility and share knowledge with the community. Ensuring that students carry some of the teaching presence leads to more substantive engagement. 
  • Send timely and thoughtful feedback on student work. You could write a few lines to a student or share an audio/video recording. If you’ve asked students to post on a discussion board, be sure you also join the conversation and contribute.
  • Solicit frequent feedback from them on how they’re doing and how they’re experiencing the course–what challenges are they experiencing? What is working well for them and what is not?

Also of note:

  • Research also shows that there is a “sweet spot” of faculty engagement that supports the best student outcomes; too much or too little will decrease student engagement.
    • Contrived interactions can do more harm than good.
  • Interactions should have a clear purpose and have value to students, such as clarifying meaning, encouraging or supporting, deepening understanding, etc.
  • Frequent and personalized interactions can increase the quality of faculty-student interactions, and can allow you to better understand where your student is thriving and where they may need more support in your course.

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