SIP 9.11 Creating a Human Component in Online Learning

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Two students sitting in lobby, one on laptop and one reading a book

If you spend any amount of time online, you’ve surely seen the common CAPTCHA phrase, “I’m not a robot” with a check box below confirming your humanity. But how about in our online classes? Are we robots or are we humans? Do students know there is an actual flesh-and-blood being on the other side of their computer screen or do they believe there is some sort of robotic presence that answers emails and grades assignments but doesn’t go much beyond that? How do we establish our humanity online, and how do we encourage our students to engage on a different, more meaningful level in an online course?

Take a SIP of this: Creating a Human Component in Online Learning

Learning online occurs through the interaction of cognitive, social and teaching presence (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001). Cognitive presence (another term used is “thinking presence”) is the ability of learners to construct knowledge as they engage in interactions with one another and with their instructor. Examples of cognitive presence in an online course include activities that promote critical thinking and encourage construction of meaning such as collaborative problem-solving activities. Social presence includes making interpersonal connections with others in their online course. Social presence is a significant component in creating a sense of humanity in an online environment. Teaching presence is an instructor’s ability to synchronize cognitive and social presence. Aside from being good teaching, establishing a strong presence in your online course increases student engagement and retention.

Suggestions for establishing cognitive, social and teaching presence in your online course:

Establishing cognitive presence online:

  • Discussion forums: Include thought-provoking questions that encourage critical thinking and active discourse or assign case studies that present current issues or problems in your field. As always, it is important to provide clear expectations for student participation. Also, it is a good idea that the instructor is involved to monitor and guide the discussion.
  • Small-group activities: Students can work together to complete an assignment, project and/or problem-based activity.
  • Reflection activities: Students can create blogs, journals or videos that reflect on their learning in the class.

Establishing social presence online:

  • Create an introductions forum: Students are required to post information about themselves and respond to one another’s posts. Give students an option of how they want to present the information via text, video, voice (i.e., VoiceThread), illustrations, cartoons, Encourage students to create an avatar that can be a consistent visual representation of themselves.
  • Create opportunities for students to interact with you and their peers: Discussion forums, debates and/or team or group projects, or a Muddiest Point Forum where students can ask for clarification about content or course requirements can get students engaged. Discussion boards can also be dedicated to large, term-length assignments where students and the instructor can discuss the assignment and related topics.
  • Peer reviews: Peer reviews involve collaborating with classmates and sharing expertise and perspective in the review of their classmates’ projects or papers (Stavredes, 2011).

Establishing teaching presence online:

  • Create an introduction video: Film a brief one- to two-minute video introducing the instructor to the class. These videos establish the instructor as a real human being and can set the tone for the class.
  • Build positive rapport: Use open, friendly communication. Be available to students. For example, clearly post your office hours and let students know they can always see you in person. You can also provide alternate means of communication outside of the course such as video conferencing or phone. Demonstrate respect, courtesy and patience.
  • Create a sense of belonging: Refer to students by their names, encourage participation and publicly or privately recognize achievement and progress individually or as a class.
  • Participate in discussion forums: Research has shown that this is a strong indicator of instructor presence.
  • Let students know you are paying attention and that you care: Regularly monitor student progress, provide constructive and timely feedback on assignments and discussion forum posts, and reach out to students who may have dropped off the radar or stopped logging into the course.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of creating a human component in online learning

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