SIP 10.2 Establish a Strong Teaching Presence Online

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Two students studying at a desk in front of a library stack.

When I first started teaching online, I thought online classes were so much easier than face-to-face. I would check in every day and make sure everything was working correctly, that there were no broken links, hidden assignments or general Blackboard weirdness. I’d answer the occasional emails, provide feedback on assignments and call it a day. What I did not realize at the time is the critical importance of establishing a teaching presence in your online courses, especially at the beginning of the semester. Instructor presence is vital to student engagement and retention online. The instructor needs to be so much more than just the course “manager”; they also need to present themselves as an actual three-dimensional human being who is an expert in the course content. However, how do you do this in a two-dimensional setting (Morrison, 2012)?

Take a SIP of this: Establishing a Strong Teaching Presence Online

The different ways you interact with students can have a great impact on developing engagement. Your presence online can encourage student interaction and help develop thinking and learning skills. Instructor interaction with students is important for learner satisfaction and retention. As an online instructor, it is your responsibility to continuously monitor and engage with learners to help them persevere through the course and reduce feelings of isolation. The quantity, timeliness and quality of your interactions with students are essential not only for maintaining retention but also to help students meet the course’s learning outcomes. The more isolated students feel, the less they engage with the material and with their peers (Stavredes, 2011).

Suggestions for increasing teaching (instructor) presence in an online course:

  • Create an introduction video: Film a brief, 1- to 2-minute video introducing yourself to the class. These videos establish the instructor as a real human being and can set the tone for the class.
  • Create an “Introductions” discussion forum. This gives students an opportunity to introduce themselves to the class and to you. You can even start the forum by introducing yourself and discussing your background, hobbies, trips you have taken, books you like to read, etc. Include pictures. Make it personable. Establish yourself not only as the course expert but also as an individual.
  • Provide frequent and prompt feedback. Be specific about student strengths and areas of concern. Give explicit suggestions on how students can improve for future assignments. According to Kupczynsk, et al. (2010), instructor feedback is the single largest correlation to student success.
  • Continuously monitor progress. Email students who have not yet checked into the course or students who may be missing assignments. It is easy to contact students via the gradebook feature in Blackboard.
  • Send weekly announcements to students about upcoming due dates, assignments and tests. You can also include current events/web links relevant to your course subject.
  • Participate in forum discussions. This gives you an opportunity to provide additional prompts or to encourage a deeper level of thinking about a certain topic or subject.
  • Ask for feedback. Blackboard allows you to create anonymous surveys within the course, or you could use Qualtrics and send students a link. Find out how the students feel about the course before the end of the semester so you can make changes as needed.

Establishing a strong teaching presence in an online course is more effort than just “managing” the class, but the overall student outcomes and retention are worth the extra effort to be an effective teacher in our physical and digital realities.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of establishing a strong teaching presence online

Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom.

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