Tips To Improve Your Online Teaching Presence
Teaching presence in online education is dependent on course design and organization, facilitation of online discourse, and well-focused direct instruction, as opposed to face-to-face teaching, which is dependent on physical presence and teacher immediacy.
While you can develop an online teaching presence by
- Establishing an online course,
- Encouraging online dialogue, and
- Offering direct instruction to your students
The most important aspect of your online teaching presence is that it contributes to your students' sense of learning and community.
What Is Online Teaching Presence?
The practice of developing a strong online teaching presence
- Keeping students informed,
- Caring for students who are struggling, and
- Providing continued support in the process
is called online teaching presence (OTS).
Online teaching presence can be defined as the process of empowering learners to engage in an online environment by offering them the means to share content, conversations, and ideas with other students and faculty members through a social network.
Whether you are teaching at a university or at a community college, you can build an online teaching presence in a number of ways. Online teaching presence is a critical element in your online learning community. The most important element of online teaching presence is that it contributes to your students' sense of learning and community.
Your online presence should be consistent with the authentic culture and values of your online community. Online teaching presence includes many components, but we'll focus on four:
- Course design,
- Online discourse,
- Facilitation of online discourse, and
- Teaching directly to students.
Essentially, what this means is that students learn from the teaching you offer through participation in the conversation you establish with your students. Online conversation contributes to the broader online discourse of your course. This includes, but is not limited to,
- Discussion forums,
- Social networking,
- Links to other sites,
- News stories, and even
- Skype conversations with students.
The theory is that, as the students communicate with one another, they form stronger relationships and take greater ownership of their online learning. To see how active your online teaching presence is in relation to other college instructors, we used a research-based learning tool called Active Learning. With this tool, instructors are measured on their active learning engagement.
Online teaching presence is the perception that what you are sharing is of a higher quality than what you are giving face-to-face. It is the notion that your students are gaining the best possible teaching experience. It is the feeling that you are part of an interactive community of learners, and that your students are seeking you out to ask questions or share opinions.
It is the assumption that the learning outcomes you have designed are the best possible, and that the knowledge or ideas you share with your students are indispensable for them to learn well. Your online teaching presence is not the result of what you show your students. Online presence is the result of what you do with your students and what you show them.
Importance Of Online Teaching Presence
Individuals need to feel the experiential part of their learning. One of the key purposes of teaching is to facilitate those experiences that students go through when they're actually in class. These experiences include
Community: Having classmates and faculty who are engaged in online interaction and discussion increases their sense of belonging, commonality, and relationships that transcend the educational setting.
Whether it's through social media or text or video chat, an educational setting must support the sharing of knowledge, understanding, and excitement with other learners in that space. When students are involved in online discussions, they develop strong feelings of community and belonging.
Online teaching presence is a key component of online learning because online communication facilitates learning and community. The presence of an online teacher can significantly enhance the learning environment of students who actively engage in online conversation and interaction with their teachers.
Students want to feel that the teachers they are working with are really there and that they can have direct contact with the instructor. If students can become that much more interactive with teachers, even remote ones, the greater their sense of belonging to the online community of learning, both in the classroom and in the online sphere.
As digital media makes the world smaller, and interactions and relationships more immediate, the opportunity for individuals to participate in online learning is expanding. As a result, there is a growing need for online educators to develop and maintain teaching presence for their students, as well as to generate opportunities for their students to interact with one another.
Building and maintaining an online teaching presence is essential for increasing student engagement, and for fostering a sense of community within online learning. This may involve developing a plan for regularly posting content to an online course, and sending specific messages to students via email and direct messages on social media, depending on the goals of the course.
Plan And Prepare An Online Course
You should always be planning, but you should plan as far in advance as you can before you start any course. Although you may not have a large online presence right now, the next time you do, it is likely that there will be a group of students who want to learn more about you and your work.
Planning to teach at least three courses in your online education career is a good strategy to have an online presence right from the start. Even if your first few courses are only of value to yourself, you can get feedback on your teaching and establish a level of confidence in online teaching. At this point, you can also start building an online community of students.
If your students are engaged, you will learn how to attract them to your course and maintain their interest and participation. You'll get a good sense of whether your course will prove popular, and if not, why. Regardless of your course design or process, it is essential that you:
- Don't offer any choice in the topics or texts.
- Don't offer a limited online discussion forum.
- Don't give students a chance to grade each other's homework.
- Don't teach in a lecture environment. Ensure your lecturers get adequate online help for your online teaching.
- Don't use too many videos in the lectures.
- Don't present students with multiple choices of what to do next.
- Don't use surveys and multiple-choice questions.
- Don't offer too many options in the reading selections.
Create multiple different versions of the course – for example, in order to attract different types of learners and cater to different learning styles – and consider offering a course under two different names. Consider not repeating material in every class and using video as a valuable adjunct to your lecture. Make sure that you and your fellow teachers post the same high-quality instruction on your respective sites.
Establish accountability by including a required number of topics, assignments, or lessons. Clearly define the main theme or focus for the course. Define the level of engagement desired from your students:
- What is the student expected to do?
- How much time is required for your students to understand the material? And,
- How much of this material do they need to understand to attain a solid foundation in your course?
In essence, define the student's goals or the degrees to which students are expected to reach certain learning outcomes.
Facilitate Online Discourse
Whether you teach as an adjunct instructor, an independent scholar, or a full-time faculty member, your online teaching presence is only as strong as the online discourse that you foster through the course design and organization, the content you teach, and the level of direct instruction you offer.
If you don't encourage discussion, even on the most basic level, you will simply have a discussion board that may, or may not, make the way you teach a little bit more complicated for your students, but doesn't really add anything to their learning and interaction with your course. Convene and moderate online discourse. To make the space around your course vibrant and active, you must start to think about how you would like your online discourse to be facilitated.
Facilitate Online Discourse in addition to your online instruction. Offer your online students a virtual platform where they can share their experiences with their peers and ask questions of the instructor. Discuss your students' answers on a blog or bulletin board. Facilitating your course and your students' online dialogue involves creating a welcoming and supportive environment for student feedback.
Some thoughtful tips for facilitating online discourse include: Avoid the temptation to give students grades immediately following the end of a lesson or even during the course. Instead, ask students to post their reflections at the end of the course on the online forum.
If they have had constructive feedback, they should leave a feedback field on the site asking if they would be willing to email it to you. This is a reminder to students that they can leave feedback and can begin to feel more invested in the course if they have a way to directly communicate with you, the professor.
Facilitate online discourse among your students and with other online students in online forums, blogs, and other online places. Include language in the course syllabus that students should use to document discussions in class and with one another in online discussion forums.
For example, in one class that I teach, I include in the syllabus that students should use this forum to comment on each other's work as a part of the course community, and the posts should be collaborative and organized by classwork. This online communication can be a powerful tool to enhance student learning.
Provide Direct Instruction
When you are teaching, make sure to include direct instruction as a fundamental part of your online teaching presence. Do this by outlining the curriculum and guiding your students in their learning. Don't rely on worksheets or other exercises for direct instruction. Instead, engage in the kind of interaction that a student would have in the course or activity, face-to-face or online.
Your students should be required to engage in some form of direct instruction. At some point in the course, students should be required to ask the instructor a direct question, some type of subquestion, or some type of inquiry in order to gain access to the material. After the direct instruction exercise, students should be required to discuss and work through their thoughts and answers in the discussion.
Provide direct instruction in online learning to deepen your students' sense of engagement in their learning. This might mean offering a formal or informal discussion board in which your students can interact and provide feedback on each other's work.
A discussion board can provide students with the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas about topics of concern or interest, to provide new points of view on the material, and to generally be supportive of each other's work.
Such discussions, which could be initiated by students or by course instructors, help students develop their own teacher-directed learning skills. In online teaching, social interaction is particularly important in shaping and helping students develop their sense of learning community.
When you teach a live class, your role is clear—you are the teacher. When you teach a course online, your role is less clear. You are more likely to be a “facilitator” in your online courses. A facilitator is someone who actively supports and contributes to the process of learning but does not necessarily lead the learning process.
How do you know whether you are a facilitator or a leader? It depends on your course design. If you incorporate face-to-face-type teaching, like lecture demonstrations, role-playing, or reflection groups, you are more likely to be a facilitator. In other cases, such as online education, you may be a leader if you provide a structured curriculum that everyone can easily access and follow.
Help Students Know More About You
This is one of the most important aspects of a teacher's online presence. Online communication is asynchronous, and it is difficult for students to communicate with you in a personal way when they are facing a screen and don't know your physical presence. Thus, it is vital that students know about you outside of your online teaching presence.
The first step in encouraging students to learn about you beyond the course of online teaching is to create and sustain an online professional persona. Creating this online persona can be an important benefit of creating a blog. Professional identity disclosure is fundamental to establishing a presence on social media, in face-to-face teaching, and in your profile on online learning platforms.
Ask students to fill out your contact information on the back of the coursebook or on the class registration form to create an online profile that students can easily access. Share this information with other faculty members and other educators through other faculty websites, presentations, and events, and ask your university's career services to create an online alumni profile.
Your students will benefit from knowing more about you and your background; they may contact you on this page to ask questions or to offer support, ask you for advice, or read a work that you have edited. Participate in online discourse in your area of expertise. Enroll in and follow the online discussions that are occurring around your area of specialization.
It is very important to identify who you are, where you teach, and how students can find you. This is part of the syllabus. Although you will want to put your first and last names and website address on the syllabus, students should know that your name is Dr. X and that you teach at such and such institution. This helps them to associate your name with you being a professor.
Social media can be an especially valuable asset in your teaching presence. Take advantage of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to connect and engage with students. We all know that social media has its downsides and frustrations, but for teaching purposes, it is an invaluable resource. Make sure your tweets, status updates, and other posts are appropriate for the age group you're trying to reach.
When students begin to search for a professor online, they look for common traits. They look for a face, a face that looks like their professor's face, a face that looks like theirs, and, sometimes, a face that resembles the face of the person who hired them. With this in mind, add profile photos to your online presence.
You want your students to see a bit of you. Good profiles also contain a logo for your school and a phone number. In addition, try to create and include your avatar photo, a one-to-two-minute video of you speaking, and one or two relevant links on your page.
Outline your job and teaching accomplishments. If you want students to view you as a “serial expert,” tell students about your past publications and courses and the students you've mentored.
Begin Each Week With A Supportive Note To Your Students
Teaching presence, like teaching, is a verb, not a noun. Make it easy for your students to engage with your online course by posting small comments at the beginning of each week on your blog, your Twitter feed, or even on your Facebook page. People love to respond to comments, and comments can keep your online courses connected and engaging.
Get the word out and ask for feedback. Send an email to your list of mailing list subscribers with a few questions about your course and receive immediate feedback. To create an effective online teaching presence, start with something you know and work up from there. Teach with compassion and a commitment to your students.
Begin each week with a supportive note to your students, even if you only interact with them once or twice a month. While that is not required, note and/or verbal messages of gratitude or appreciation, appreciation for students' hard work, and a reason why you thought they did well on an assignment or challenge help improve the experience of the course.
Participate in group discussions in your online course. Connect with your students and allow them to see you as part of the online course community. This interaction not only increases satisfaction for the student, but it also allows them to feel involved and an active member of the online community, which ultimately leads to greater engagement and participation in the course and longer attention spans, as more time is spent on discussion and engagement.
Explain Course Outcome For The Week
Set weekly goals for the online learning community:
- Would it be appropriate for the forum to critique each other’s work, for example?
- Encourage students to “jump in” to discussions if they see something going on that they want to share.
- Put information about the course online for your students.
- Up to date information about the course’s design, structure, content, standards, and teacher responsibilities should be listed in a clear place on the course site.
Let your students know how to find that information. Incorporate blog discussions into your online class. Blog or status updates regarding class activities should be used to document the course and to provide updates to your online learning community.
To create a sense of community, inform students that their participation in the course discussion will be considered part of the learning experience and that the success of the course and their relationship to it will depend on their participation. Consider providing your students with personalized feedback at the end of the week on a regular basis.
To increase student understanding of the significance of your interactions and the outcomes for their course participation, provide your students with occasional feedback in several different forms. Provide specific answers to specific questions about the courses readings, responses to specific comments, or activities that are scheduled.
Use A Conversational Tone And Employ Humour
The tone of your online classroom should be conversational. You should be engaged and responsive to your students and make the learning experience interactive, like a small-group discussion in the traditional classroom. Using humour is an effective way to engage students.
If students are learning about elements of world history, you can turn to the video for a fun question or topic for discussion. Use news clips or other video content. Using clips or even just a headline on the screen can be a good way to engage your audience at the moment. Online, you don't always have to rely on narration and script, which can be distracting.
Explain why the format of your courses is important, but never make fun of how your students communicate or process information. This requires that you approach the teaching of online content from a “teach-now” perspective, which can be challenging for teachers who've been teaching for years. In online courses, especially, the teacher must avoid resorting to coercive methods, such as time limits or timekeeping.
While these practices serve a purpose in high-stakes, face-to-face classrooms, online teachers can't use them to alter the pace of a class or provide feedback on students' work. Provide students with an inviting, welcoming atmosphere.
An online course that discourages lively conversation—or is boring or otherwise unhelpful—can leave students discouraged or overwhelmed. Use a conversational tone and employ humour in your teaching, and students will feel they have a peer support system in the form of you.
Once you have a teaching presence on the web, including hosting and running discussion forums, keeping your blog current, and posting tweets and Facebook updates, you have established an important and necessary online presence in online education.
I trust you enjoyed this blog post on the Tips To Improve Your Online Teaching Presence. Would you please stay tuned for more articles like this to come? Take care!
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I would love to hear from you. Please leave me your questions, experiences, remarks, and/or suggestions about the Tips To Improve Your Online Teaching Presence in the comments section below. You can also reach me by email at Jeannette@WorkFromAnywhereInTheWorld.com.
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