Humanize your Online Class
The instructor's "presence" in an online or blended course has a significant impact on setting the tone for the community. As you've read, discussion boards go a long way towards building community, particularly between students. However, instructor presence has an even larger effect on the sense of community, as it sets the tone and expectations for all interactions. Consistent modeling of appropriate interactions, sharing a personal aspect, and using both formal and informal registers of language depending on the situation are factors that help students to feel more connected to their instructor.
Examples of Presence
Instructor presence in the classroom, whether virtual or on-ground, is a combination of both personal presence and academic presence. In the face-to-face classroom, teachers typically use informal, unscripted methods to share personal information about themselves and make connections with students. In both online and blended environments, planning for and creating a personal presence within the digital interactions is important for a sense of community. In the online environment, teachers have the opportunity to plan for the persona they will convey, and create an online presence that students can relate to.
In blended environments, it is tempting to leave the personal presence to the face-to-face interactions, and use the online environment as a purely academic forum. However, by modeling solely academic interactions, blended teachers essentially isolate the online environment from the face-to-face one, diminishing the potential for out-of-class collaboration and community development. In both the online and blended environments, creating a presence that incorporates academic and personal aspects is a key factor in engaging students in the online community.
Students in online courses cite personal storytelling as one of the most important ways that they learn about and relate to their instructor. Students report a greater sense of engagement and relationship with teachers who use images that include their face, images of themselves in informal settings, and their actual recorded voice. Teachers can create short digital stories using simple and free Web 2.0 tools to share personal information in an engaging format.
The video below highlights the fundamentals of teacher presence online:
(Click here to view an enlarged version of the image below.)
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