Instructor Presence

What is it?

Presence is one aspect of teaching online that is very different from face-to-face teaching. Presence can be most simply described as “being there,” and refers to the degree to which you feel that you and the people you are working with are “real.”

The concept of “creating presence” online is aligned with the constructivist view of learning and teaching, where learners have to be actively involved creating knowledge and meaning through interacting with the content as well as interacting with others (e.g., the instructor, other students). In Stavredes’s (2011) words, “learning occurs within a community of inquiry through the interaction of cognitive, social, and teaching presence. Cognitive presence is the ability of learners to construct knowledge together as they engage in interactions. Social presence contributes to the learning experience because it establishes learners as individuals and helps build interpersonal relationships that can have a positive impact on engagement in learning activities. Teaching presence includes how an instructor facilitates the learning activities to support social and cognitive presence to help learners achieve course outcomes” (p. 105).

Why is it important?

Compared to face-to-face courses, presence in an online and remote course must be deliberately created (see the Teaching Phases in Online and Hybrid Courses for more about this). It is important for students to feel the presence of their instructor as well as of other students online, which can help prevent feelings of isolation and promote motivation. Patrick Brown appears in the lecture slides from his PLS007 Just Coffee course (see sidebar). This is especially important during course beginnings when students need to feel connected to the instructor and to the other students, but it is important to keep in mind that instructor presence remains crucial to student success throughout the course. This can take many different forms.

How can I create presence online?

  • Write a getting-acquainted post before the course begins. This can help build social presence and launch the feeling of community. Consider including a picture, a short biography, a link to your favorite professional publication, and other favorite activities or hobbies.  An example from Debbie Fetter, who teaches Nutrition 10V (see sidebar).  
  • Ask students to share something about themselves in an introductory discussion forum post or webinar so they can get to know their fellow students. Encourage them to also share why they are taking this course and any particular topics they are interested in. The simple act of sharing helps students connect on several levels.
  • Use polls or surveys in class to get a sense of who students are and share the aggregated information with the class. Sample questions can range from "how many have taken a statistics class before this one?"; "how many of you are familiar coding in R?"; "how many of you grew up outside of California" etc.
  • Send regular announcements or post regularly on a course blog to let the learners know that you are there. Consider “checking in” online more often, but for smaller amounts of time (daily for 15 minutes for example) to join the discussion, answer any queries, and guide the students.
  • Put students in small teams early in a course so students can get to know each other and feel like part of a community. Provide guidelines on how they can work effectively as part of a team. The AACU VALUE Rubric provides some language to set guidelines:
  • Use question-and-answer boards or discussion forums where students can go for help from each other and from you. 
  • Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, questions, discussions, and reflections. Model for students how to participate in an online discussion and clarify discussion guidelines in order to nurture a rich conversation online.
  • Schedule synchronous interactions outside of class time, such as online office hours and question-and-answer sessions, using Zoom, Google hangouts, or other Canvas tools.

References & Resources

  • Aragon, S. R. (2010). Creating social presence in online environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 57-68.
  • Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. M. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous learning networks, 6(1), 21-40.
    Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. John Wiley & Sons.

Content adapted from Ed Tech Commons: