Let me reassure you that technology is not replacing the teacher. Nothing can replace the presence of an educator in any learning environment. Online learning just provides another avenue to meet our students, educate them, guide them, and support them. So, how can we, instructors, reach into the learning management system and let our online students know we are just as dedicated to them as our in-person students? This question has been a trending topic in distance education in recent years due to results of research on the impact of instructor presence.
The online environment initially separates the instructor and students, which starts them at a disadvantage. Overcoming this disadvantage takes some extra effort, planning, and dedication. Nothing new to “rock-star” instructors. Here are five ways to enhance instructor presence, your presence, in your online class. And… of course, I added technology tools and Canvas hacks to help you implement each strategy.
1. Regular Interactions
Regular interactions are instructor to student interactions that students can count on throughout the course. These can include scheduled announcements (where students can reply with questions or comments), due date reminder messages, and prompt replies to student messages. Each interaction is an example that you are there. You are interested in their personal success, as well as interested in each of their questions. They can count on your continuous attentiveness.
Utilize Canvas tools in order to help you implement each of these strategies as follows:
2. Discussion Engagement
Next, let’s address the age-old debate of instructor engagement within student discussion forums. Yes, these forums are meant for student conversations about new concepts and student-to-student connection is a pillar of student engagement. Still, instructor presence, or guidance rather, is essential to promote critical thinking, correct misunderstandings, and encourage connections. Beyond academic discussions, create a space for more informal interactions. A discussion forum titled, “The Cafe”, can be used to engage with students outside the parameters of academia, student performance, and learning objectives.
3. Prompt Feedback
In one study, for example, “investigators found that prompt feedback was a significant predictor of student perceived learning and satisfaction” (Ladyshewsky, 2013). With best intentions, we all know that grading can pile up quickly. Research on learning cycles suggest evaluation and adjustments, the last part of the cycle, can only occur if feedback is give promptly within 48 hours. “Nicole, I teach four courses with over one hundred students, 48 hours is just not possible most of the time.” As a fellow college instructor, I couldn’t agree more. The goal is to provide students with meaningful and prompt feedback in order for the student to not lose context for the valued learning of the work and have a chance to adjust prior to the next similar assignment. Strategy: make 48 hours a goal and 7 days a policy. Returning grading within 7 days still gives time for students to review and reflect on given feedback and adjust understanding of concepts and expectations of the assignment.
4. Real World Connections
The ultimate answer to the “why is this important” motivational barrier can be found out there… in the real world. We’re finally in an age where the classroom and the real world can be easily connected. Creating this connection provides purpose, real world application, and engaging content into the online learning environment. Theme related current events are useful when an instructor would like to adjust instructional material without changing the curriculum and learning objectives. Scouring news outlets for relevant articles can take hours of your time that is just not there. So, why not have technology do that work for you?
5. Visual and Audio Communications
Online courses have come so far from their text-heavy correspondence beginnings. Just as in-person courses give the instructor a chance to express insights and connections in the concepts, technology tools have made it possible for online students to share the same experience. I recently took an online course from Univ. of Wisconsin-Stout, on instructional design, where the instructor showed continuous presence. One tool she used was Zoom for web conferences. At the beginning of the course, the students answered what the best day and time would be for a live web-conference chat. Then once a week, on the elected day and time, the instructor would send a link for her student to join her for questions, challenges, tools, and more. The live conferences were also recorded and added to the week’s content for any student who could not make the meeting time. I was surprised just how useful this weekly conference really was. Students flocked to this meeting to ask specific questions, get immediate feedback on ideas, and listen to peers thought processes. Your students could benefit from live-time communication and connection too.
A strong instructor presence in online learning is directly related to decreasing the gradual loss of student enrollment, and an increase in student engagement through communication exchanges that can somewhat resemble that of an in-person course. Remember, technology will never replace a great instructor. Oh, and this just in from online students everywhere, “thanks for being there”.
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Community College Research Center (CCRC) and Teachers College, Columbia University. (2013). Creating an Effective Online Instructor Presence. Retrieved November 4, 2015, from http://www.achievingthedream.org/sites/default/files/resources/Online-Learning-Practitioner-Packet.pdf
Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013, 01). Instructor Presence in Online Courses and Student Satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1). doi:10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070113
Nicole Mace believes that distance education is a true game changer. She has spent close to a decade in education and spends her free time reading anything she can get her hands on about online learning.
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