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Being actively involved in your online class will promote student success. While online classes provide students with more flexibility and new ways to collaborate, success in the online environment is directly related to how present and engaged the instructor is in the virtual classroom. By the end of this module we hope that you can:
Table of Contents
What is Online Presence?
The concept of presence in online teaching builds on the body of work on teaching and learning including Dewey, Chickering and Gamson, and many others studying the psychological and sociological aspects of learning and computer-mediated communication. Several of the Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (pdf, 267kb) (Links to an external site.) refer to active presence in the learning environment. For example, good practice:
While online classes provide students with more flexibility and new ways to collaborate, success in the online environment is directly related to how present and engaged both the instructor and the students are in the virtual classroom. In the Faculty Focus article, What Online Teachers Need to Know, all four of the basic elements listed there are part of online presence.
Being present in your online class is not only about good practice and supporting student learning and engagement. Instructor presence and communication is what makes the difference between a class being categorized as a distance education class v/s a correspondence course. The US Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) have defined the difference between "distance education" and "correspondence education" based on the "regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor." The definition also notes that the interaction cannot be primarily initiated by the student. The instructor must initiate interaction. Simply posting recorded lectures or textual materials online, along with exams or quizzes, will not meet the federal (and HLC) guidelines and will be classified as a correspondence course. Students can't use federal financial aid to pay for correspondence education (Links to an external site.). Online courses, for which students may use financial aid, must have significant faculty-student interaction.
Pasadena Community College offers some guidelines for regular effective contact with students (Links to an external site.):
Instructor Initiated Interactions
Frequency & Timeliness of Interactions
Expectations for Interactions
Absences from Interactions
Community of Inquiry Model
Garrison, Anderson, and Archer developed the Community of Inquiry Model (Links to an external site.)to describe the ways in which multiple types of online presence interact in an online course. The following interactive tool describes the inter-related aspects of presence based on the Community of Inquiry Model.
As you can see from the previous section, teaching, cognitive, and social presence can be leveraged in a variety of ways. Let's take a closer look at how you could use each of them in your online course.
Teaching presence includes both the planning and forethought that go into building your course and what you do "in the moment" when interacting with your students. The parts of teaching presence that occur while the course is in session include facilitation of discourse and direct instruction.
Direct instruction is the more straightforward of the two and would include pre-developed presentations, assessing student work and providing instructive feedback, diagnosing misconceptions, clarifying concepts, and referring students to additional resources or practice opportunities.
Facilitating discourse is more than simply requiring students to post to a discussion and reply to others. It involves regularly reading and providing feedback on student postings, encouraging participation, moving the discussion forward when it stalls or gets off track, identifying and drawing out areas of agreement and disagreement, pointing out linkages, and helping students articulate shared understandings. Immediacy behaviors can be helpful when facilitating discourse. Things like referring to students by name, encouraging student-student conversation, sharing personal examples from your own research, travel, or conversations with other faculty contribute to both social and teaching presence.
Cormier and Siemans (2010) also suggest several roles instructors can take to provide active teaching presence in an online course:
It is important to stay present throughout the course - not just at the beginning of the semester. Maintaining continual instructor presence during the course, particularly during natural activity lulls, keeps students motivated and engaged. Students need the structure and leadership of your active teaching presence to move from surface learning to a deeper level of engaged learning. This can take the form of:
To hear more about approaches to online presence please watch the following video from the Educational Technology Support Team at the University of British Columbia.
Feedback as an Example of Teaching Presence
Giving feedback on assignments is a critical part of the direct instruction component of teaching presence. It provides a natural opportunity for one-to-one teaching presence while supporting student learning. Getzlaf, et al (2009) describe effective feedback as
In an online course it is important for students to get frequent feedback on how they are doing. Are they learning what they are supposed to be learning? Are they achieving the learning outcomes? The most effective way to ensure that students get the feedback they need to stay on track is through a comprehensive, balanced assessment strategy that includes both formative and summative assessments. You can even have students provide peer feedback if you supervise it well.
There are several ways to provide feedback in Blackboard: individual written, audio, or video feedback through Speed Grader or via an Inbox message; group feedback in the group space via a group announcement or discussion forum; and aggregated class feedback via whole class announcements or discussion forums.
However you choose to provide feedback, it is important that the feedback be provided in a timely manner and that it include specific suggestions for improvement. For more information on providing good feedback see 7 Keys to Effective Feedback (Links to an external site.)
Being Present from the Beginning: Introducing yourself to your class
While being present throughout the course is critical, starting as you mean to go on is also important. Providing a personal video introduction at the start of the course allows students to see you as a human being which can mitigate the anonymity of text-based conversation and encourage human connections.
One of the first things you normally do in your class is introduce yourself. In an online class, introductions are even more important as they are one of the first points of contact with you as an instructor and likely the first one where they see you visually. Video introductions help your students feel more connected to you and lets them know there is a real, live faculty member behind the course. They support teaching presence, which is essential to online success. Research on video introductions (Links to an external site.) indicates that they can improve student engagement at the beginning of the course and encourage positive student perceptions of you as the instructor.
By beginning the semester by personally introducing yourself and sharing your background, expertise, and interests in a welcoming manner, you can show your students that you are approachable and interested in their learning. Creating a basic introduction video is also a great way to start thinking about using video and audio more generally, which diversifies the methods of communication and information delivery in your course. Simple webcam recordings are fine as long as you make sure your lighting and audio are good. See the Video and Presentation Planning Checklist (File can also be downloaded under Attachments at the bottom of this article) for more information.
Cognitive presence is central to successful student learning. The quality of cognitive presence reflects the quality and quantity of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving, and construction of meaning occurring in student↔student and student↔faculty interactions. You can model and support cognitive presence in your interactions with students in discussions, assignment feedback, and other communications.
Cognitive presence is based on the iterative relationship between personal understanding and shared dialogue. Building on the work of John Dewey, Garrison proposed the Practical Inquiry Model shown here. This model integrates these two aspects in a cycle beginning with a question or puzzle - called a triggering event - or just a general awareness that something isn't making sense. The learner then explores the available information and alternatives to make sense of the problem and connects this new information to previously learned concepts. Finally, the learner takes action to solve the problem or answer the question based on their newly integrated understanding.
The overlap between cognitive presence and teaching presence, labeled "Regulating Learning" in the Community of Inquiry diagram, focuses on the co-regulation of learning and metacognition by both the instructor and the students. Paz and Pereira (2015) found several categories within Regulating Learning including
Students also exhibit some of these aspects as self-regulation and as co-regulation in groups.
Depending on the course and the instructor, the amount of learning regulation will vary. More self-directed graduate students will need less co-regulation than first year undergraduate students. For example, effectively moderating online discussion is an important strategy for supporting cognitive presence. Moderating and modeling the way in which a beginner in the field should be thinking through a question, problem, or case may occur more often in undergraduate classes as the students begin to learn how to learn in the field. It is important to realize that simply interacting with others or with the content does not automatically translate into critical discourse or the integration of ideas into meaningful constructs (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005).
Social presence is important especially at the beginning of the semester when students are getting to know and trust both you and one another. If students can make interpersonal connections with others, they are more likely to engage with the course and the content. Indicators of Social Presence include
The overlap of social and teaching presence, labeled as "Setting Climate" in the Community of Inquiry diagram, includes critical aspects of building a positive learning environment. Parker and Harrington's (2015) research indicates four main aspects.
Students also exhibit some of these aspects when working in groups. Behaviors such as monitoring each other's progress and holding each other accountable for work quality and deadlines in groups sets the climate for their group. Effective group work also hinges on trust and comfort level with other students so building positive rapport and a sense of belonging is vital to setting group norms and participating in efficient collaboration.
In an online class, it is difficult but not impossible for students to get to know each other and you on a more personal level. Providing a space for students to introduce themselves to the class - preferably with video - is a good start to help students see each other as a "real people" and not just a name on a screen. Students can embed video of themselves into Blackboard Discussions or you can use VoiceThread for an alternative approach.
More Examples of Online Presence
Transcript - Huber's Successful Online Engagement Strategies; Transcript - Huffman's Online Enhancement of Student Professor Communication (Files can also be downloaded under Attachments at the bottom of this article)
Kanuka, H., & Garrison, R. (2004). Cognitive Presence in Online Learning (pdf, 916k). Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 15(2), 21-39.
Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough (pdf, 69k). American Journal of Distance Education 19(3), 133-148.
Pelletier, P. (2013). What online teachers need to know. Faculty Focus
Anderson, T., Rourke L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context (pdf, 415k) (Links to an external site.). Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17.
Brindley, J. E., Walti, C., & Blaschke, L. M. (2009). Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).
Cormier, A., & Siemens, G. (2010). Through the open door: Open courses as research, learning and engagement. EDUCAUSE Review, 45(4) 30-39.
Joyce, K.M., & Brown, D. (2009). Enhancing social presence in online learning: Mediating strategies applied to social networking tools. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(4).
Parker, J., & Herrington, J. (2015). Setting the climate in an authentic online community of learning (Links to an external site.). In proceedings of the Australian Association for Research in Education 2015 Annual Conference, University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, WA, USA.
Paz, J., & Pereira, A. (2015). Regulation of learning as distributed teaching presence in the community of inquiry framework (Links to an external site.). In the Proceedings of Technology, Colleges, and Community Online Conference 2015: The Future is Now. Honolulu, HI
Philip, I., Curtis, R., Phillips, P., & Wells, J. (2007). Using asynchronous audio feedback to enhance teaching presence and students’ sense of community (pdf, 115k). Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2).
Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14.
Article ID: 604
Last updated: 05 Apr, 2022