Eastern Connecticut State University Knowledgebase

Module 9: Online Presence - What can I do to ensure my students "see" me?

Article ID: 604
Last updated: 5 Apr, 2022

Online Presence: What can I do to ensure my students "see" me?

Learning Objectives

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:

  1. describe the three types of online presence and
  2. explain how you could leverage each of them to enhance your course

Table of Contents

Online Presence: Being "Present" in Your Online Course

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:

  • encourages student-faculty contact through introductions, announcements, online office hours, and prompt response to student questions and concerns
  • encourages cooperation among students through all-class or small-group discussions and well-supported group work using both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration technology
  • encourages active learning as discussed in the Active Learning Module
  • gives prompt feedback, including both summative feedback and actionable formative feedback
  • provides clear instructions regarding due dates and participation emphasizing the need to spend as much (or more) time on an online class as an in-person class.  At the same time, be reasonable in your expectations regarding quantity of reading and work within any given time frame.
  • provides clear expectations for student work and participation through rubrics and examples, and for communication through a rubric or the Core Rules of Netiquette (Links to an external site.)
  • uses multiple means of instruction, engagement, and assessment such as audio, video, screencasts, diagrams, etc. to support Universal Design for Learning (Links to an external site.)

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

  • Design daily or weekly assignments and projects that promote collaboration among students.
  • Model course netiquette at the beginning of the semester with instructor-guided introductions.
  • Pose questions in the discussion boards which encourage various types of interaction and critical thinking skills among all course participants.
  • Monitor content activity to ensure that students participate fully and discussions remain on topic.
  • Create a specific forum for questions regarding course assignments.
  • Ask students for feedback about the course on a regular basis and revise content as needed.

Frequency & Timeliness of Interactions

  • Maintain an active daily presence, particularly during the beginning weeks of a course.
  • Give frequent and substantive feedback throughout the course.
  • Let students know what response time they should expect for questions/inquiries (eg. 24-48 hours).

Expectations for Interactions

  • Explain course policy regarding student-initiated contact (where to post questions, assignments, etc.) in the syllabus.
  • Outline and explain netiquette in initial course documents.
  • Clarify important dates, such as assignment and assessment deadlines not only in the beginning but also throughout the course.

Absences from Interactions

  • Inform students immediately of the absence should an illness, family emergency or other unexpected event prevent continuing regular effective contact for a prolonged period of time (>1 week).
  • Inform student of whom to contact with course questions during the absence.
  • Let students know when regular effective instructor-initiated contact will resume.

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. 

Transcript of Community of Inquiry Video (File can also be downloaded under Attachments at the bottom of this article

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Online Presence: Types of Teaching Presence

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

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:

  • Amplifying - Drawing attention to important ideas/concepts, both in the course materials and in student comments or other work.
  • Curating - Selecting and arranging readings, videos, and other resources to scaffold concepts
  • Aggregating - Finding and displaying patterns in discussions and other communications
  • Modeling - Demonstrate the skills you expect from your students - both in terms of interaction and analysis

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:

  • defining clear expectations for student work and interactions,
  • selecting and sequencing manageable sections of content, 
  • facilitating discourse with engaging questions and challenges to test understanding, as well as by modeling appropriate contributions to the discussion,
  • structuring both collaborative and individual activities that are aligned with desired learning outcomes, and
  • assessing learning at a deeper, more complex level and providing feedback on learning processes.

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

  • a mutual process involving both student and instructor
  • providing constructive guidance that builds confidence
  • guiding through explicit expectations and ongoing coaching
  • meeting mutually established timelines
  • being applicable to future situations

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. 

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Online Presence: Types of Teaching Presence - Cognitive and Social Presence

Cognitive Presence

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.

Dewey's Practical Inquiry Model Outline (File can also be downloaded under Attachments at the bottom of this article

Dewey's Practical Inquiry Model chart– See outline above image

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

  • Confirming understanding of tasks
  • Assessing learning strategies and work processes and/or proposing corrections to those processes
  • Reminding others of tasks and encouraging them to focus on or contribute to tasks, resources, and activities
  • Helping with tasks, processes, or products of learning
  • Managing the movement through learning phases or tasks

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

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

  • Affective responses such as expressing emotion and using humor
  • Interactive responses such as continuing a discussion thread, referring to other students in a message or post, asking questions, and expressing agreement or appreciations
  • Cohesive responses such as using other students' names, using inclusive pronouns to refer to their group or class, and engaging in small talk

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 StrategiesTranscript - Huffman's Online Enhancement of Student Professor Communication (Files can also be downloaded under Attachments at the bottom of this article

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Online Presence: Resources

Additional Information

Balancing Act: Managing Instructor Presence and Workload When Creating an Interactive Community of Learners  (Links to an external site.)

Creating a Sense of Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom (Links to an external site.)

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 EnvironmentThe 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 toolsOnline 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.

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Article ID: 604
Last updated: 5 Apr, 2022
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