Presence in Online Courses

Person watching video lecture on a laptop while drinking coffeePresence is, put simply, the interaction and involvement an individual has within a course. This can be faculty interaction with students, students with faculty, and students with students. Presence is important as the online environment for both hybrid and online classes automatically decreases (or eliminates) the standard face time that is found in a face to face class.

The research on presence

Multiple studies of presence in online environments have been conducted for the last several decades. For example, a 2013 study conducted by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University entitled “Creating an Effective Instructor Presence” discusses several points as to why presence is important.

A quick summary:

  • Students want to feel connected to their course, instructor, and fellow students.  Be prompt in responses.
  • Interpersonal relationships increase student performance.
  • Audio is important.  Video is more important.
  • Discussions need to be well structured, or they’ll be seen as busywork.  Clear expectations help, too.
  • Feedback is highly important.

Please read the research for the best evidence of the need for presence in an online course.

General principles

There are a few general principles to remember when trying to maintain presence in an online environment.

  1. Encourage contact! Use the tools you have available to encourage and maintain contact with your students, and contact among them. This can go beyond simple messaging and discussion boards, and use tools like Google Hangouts,Skype, and social networks like Twitter with a defined class hashtag. Also, students can help one another with your course, allowing them to expand their own skills while learning new content.
  2. Cooperation and active learning are key. Use modern tools to help with collaboration, like Google DocsOffice 365, and Slack. Canvas has tools to facilitate collaboration, too. Remember, your students may be in many different places, so it’s necessary to increase distance collaboration.
  3. Generate feedback and connections. Don’t be afraid to have students review one another on assignments and work, or to generate connections to one another. Be open to feedback on your content – it’s one of the many ways you can improve as a hybrid/online instructor. Always remember to make your own feedback meaningful by providing ideas and thoughts related to a student’s work, not just a “great job” feedback response.
  4. Use your voice. Having students hear your voice (or see you talking) within a class is incredibly important in establishing presence. Your students should use their voices, too. Consider having a discussion that only uses video, such as the built-in media recording tool in a Canvas discussion board, or a tool like Flipgrid.
  5. Respect diverse ways of learning. No two people learn content in the same way, nor should we expect them to do so.

Tips to establish presence

Presence can easily be established in a variety of places and through different methods:

  • Provide feedback to every student to ensure their understanding of the content. This also helps students recognize they can use you as a resource.
  • Participate in discussions with feedback and insightful commentary.
  • Be open about interests, as this helps students connect with you as the instructor through common thoughts. This can be as simple as asking a class if they’ve seen a movie through an off-topic discussion.
  • Use announcements for purposes other than reminding of assignments! Canvas announcements are intended for special announcements and conveying of interesting tidbits like articles, not for constant reminders. The system itself handles constant reminders if you are using due dates.
  • Record a video introduction to your course, working as a guided tour of what to expect. The same can occur for module introductions.
  • Occasionally respond to student work with video rather than text commentary. This allows you to give emphasis and feeling that does not come out through text alone.

Establish presence with video

Instructor video can easily be created to establish presence in a course. The college has a system, Panopto, which can record and store video to serve this purpose.

Panopto is Moraine Valley’s video capture and management system. Videos can be created with Panopto or through any other method (with a mobile device, video camera, webcam, Camtasia) and hosted on Panopto for easy sharing with students. Unlike YouTube, your video content is secured, cannot be downloaded, and can only be accessed by your students. With some instructor preparation, students in a course can also record video into Panopto.

For a quick start on using Panopto, view the Using Panopto with Canvas document on ITConnect.

Media Services also provides additional information on the use of Panopto through the ITConnect Knowledge Base. Additionally, Panopto also has an excellent support portal with articles on using its specific features.

Remember: When you create a video, it needs to be closed captioned.

Establish presence with audio

It’s fairly easy to establish presence with audio and only requires a microphone plus audio recording software to complete. Much like with video, Panopto can be used in this manner with all video inputs turned off. You can also use a program like Audacity to record audio and then upload to Canvas. Canvas’s own record/upload media function can be used for this purpose, or even for commentary on student assignment submissions. There’s also a great many mobile apps that make it easy to record and upload audio.

As with video, you do need to meet accessibility standards. In this case, provide a transcript along with your audio. Consider using a tool like Otter.AI to make transcriptions easy.

Questions? We can help!

Have questions about instructor presence, video, audio, online teaching, or much more? Please contact the Center for Teaching & Learning through our contact form or by phone at (708) 974-5347.