Instructor Presence in an Online Course

Presence is the most important best practice for an online course (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 53)

Research has shown that an important component in students ‘performance in and satisfaction with their online course is the active participation of the instructor within their course (Picciano, 2002; Rovai, 2002; Swan & Shih, 2005). Students want to interact with their professors throughout their online experience. A criticism that shows up repeatedly in the literature involves online instructors who do not respond to students in a timely manner or provide little or no feedback. Active participation of the instructor, as well as their ongoing interactions with students, helps them to be “present” in an online course. Instructor presence is important because it helps bridge the distance and address feelings of isolation students may feel when learning online. Instructor presence includes three elements, teaching presence, instructor immediacy, and social presence (Mandemach, Gonzales, & Garrett, 2006).

Teaching presence is a concept described in Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry framework. These researchers argued that teachers were “the binding element” that not only creates but help to sustain the learning community. Teaching presence is established in three ways, course design, facilitation, and direct instruction (Garrison et al., 2000). Course design involves tasks such as, curriculum development, creation and integration of a variety of learning activities into the course, and assessment of participant learning outcomes. Facilitation includes setting the course climate, encouraging learner participation in course activities, and acknowledging participant responses. Direct instruction encompasses tasks such as, regulating the amount of material covered, posing questions that guide participant learning, summarizing discussions, and confirming understanding through assessment and feedback. Each of these interrelated processes helps shape the student learning experience.

Instructor immediacy involves communication behaviors that reduce “social and psychological distance between people” (Arbaugh, 2001, p. 45). Immediacy behaviors include using humor and participant names, encouraging participation during discussion, and sharing personal stories. One of the things I liked in an online course I recently took is that our instructor would acknowledge the personal interests of students on a given topic and recommend books that she liked so that students could explore the topic further.

Social presence involves the ability of an individual to project themselves as a “real person” in the online learning environment (Garrison et al., 2000). Ways in which in which the idea of social presence manifests itself in an online class include self-disclosure, such as sharing work and professional interests, and modeling open, respectful communication. For instance, one of the ways an instructors demonstrate this principle is through their online biographies in which they share information about their hobbies and research interests.

Techniques to establish instructor presence include:
• Sending welcoming messages and preliminary information about the course before it begins.
• Create meet the instructor and course navigation videos to initiate students to social presence and help establish expectations.
• Sharing information related to personal and professional interests.
• Making your course site organized and easy to navigate.
• Using the announcement forum to communicate important information about your course.
• Setting expectations at the beginning of your course for how often you will check messages and how soon
• Providing timely feedback to students, using a variety of formats (i.e., email, phone, online office hours).
• Sharing your expertise with students.
• Using names when asking students to explain rationale or posing questions to them.
• Monitoring student progress.
• Actively problem solving with students.

Tips and Resources

Improving your teaching presence in distance learning courses (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Jones, P., Naugle, K., & Kolloff, M. (2008). Teacher Presence: Using introductory videos in online and hybrid courses. Learning Solutions Magazine.

Arbaugh, J. B. (2001). How instructor immediacy behaviors affect student satisfaction and learning in web courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4), 42-54.

Boettcher, J.V., & Conrad, R. (2010).The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87−105.

Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(1), 21-38.

About Constance Harris

Constance is an Educational Technologist in ITaP. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University in 2013.
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One Response to Instructor Presence in an Online Course

  1. Terry Patterson says:

    Excellent article reminding online instructors how important
    it is to be “visible” to students and let them know that you are invested in
    their success. Many of the techniques
    require a bit of thoughtful engagement, and many online students expect this
    from the instructor already.

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