Module 1: Establishing Presence

In this module, we will explore the importance of establishing a strong presence as an online teacher and provide you with practical strategies to connect with your students effectively. As the foundation of successful online teaching, establishing presence helps foster a positive and engaging learning environment.

Module Objectives:

After completing this module, you will be able to: 

  • Develop strategies to establish a strong instructor presence in the online classroom, including effective communication methods, active engagement with students, and timely feedback, to enhance student learning and foster a sense of instructor support and guidance.
  • Recognize the importance of providing contextual justifications or meta-information for course materials, assignments, and assessments in order to clarify their purpose, relevance, and connection to learning objectives, enabling students to better understand the significance of the content and their own learning journey.
  • Consider the proficiency required in managing and facilitating online discussion boards, including skills such as posing thoughtful questions, encouraging active participation, moderating discussions effectively, and promoting meaningful interactions among students to create a collaborative and engaging online learning community.
  • Develop the ability to create engaging and informative announcements that effectively support the tempo and pacing of student learning. This includes providing clear instructions, highlighting key concepts, sharing essential updates or reminders, and fostering a sense of community and motivation within the online course.

Section 1: Instructor Presence 
The role of an online course facilitator is perhaps the most influential component of a successful online learning experience. In fact, students' online course evaluations most frequently cite the instructor's online teaching presence as highly important and pivotal to their success. Consider the following high-impact practices:

  • Log into your online course regularly, at least 3-5 times/week, and even more frequently at the beginning of the semester when students are acclimating to their online learning environment. 

  • Communicate with your students regularly in course announcements, emails, and asynchronous online discussion boards. 

  • Manage student expectations with an email reply policy (e.g., 24-48 hours) and the return of graded assignments policy (e.g., 7-10 day turnaround) that aligns with the course length (e.g., 8-week, 15-week). 

Just like in your face-to-face courses, you'll find a system and a rhythm of connecting with your students that works best for you. 

Additional Resources

Educators discuss strategies and lessons learned that influence online teaching presence in the videos below:

Fox Chapel Area School District. (2011, April 7). Teaching presence in online learning [Video]. YouTube. 

EDUCAUSE. (2013, May 6). 8 lessons learned from teaching online [Video]. YouTube. 

Section 2: Meta Information 
Online teaching is not just about providing information—it is also about providing the context for that information. That is what we mean by "meta information." Here are some examples and phrases that an online instructor might use to convey meta information:

  • An instructor begins their PowerPoint presentation by saying, “Last week we talked about Topics X and Y. This week, we'll explore those concepts in more depth by focusing on....”

  • An instructor provides access to a website and says, “This is a commercial site, so it’s not entirely unbiased. But look past the sales pitch because there is some good information about X, Y, and Z...”

  • An instructor returns an exam and says, “Great job with Topic A, everyone. I did notice, though, Topic Z is still confusing to most of you. I’ve added some resources to the class website to help bring everybody up to speed on that topic...”

In an online course, when you provide meta information, such as clarifying remarks, explanations or expectations about specific resources, and concluding or connective statements from one unit to the next, each needs to have a “home” in your online course. That means all meta information (i.e., your contextual justifications) needs to be written out or presented on a video and posted in the online course.

Take a moment to think through the ways you would like to use meta information in your online course.

Additional Resources

FCTL UMB (2022, November 5) How to Use the Social Annotation Tool [Video]. YouTube. OTC 11-4-22

Section 3: Discussion Boards 
Many faculty agree that the discussion board is the heart and soul of an online course. It is where the bulk of the interaction happens. When properly designed and administered, the discussion board can be a vibrant place for students to work together, share their learning, and engage with the instructor and their peers. Important factors to consider are:

  • Designing discussion board question prompts
  • Analyzing how and when to respond
  • Redirecting conversations when necessary
  • Assessing the discussion board activity

Additional Resources

Five in Five for Faculty. (2020, July 5). How to use discussion boards for student engagement in online courses-tips for college instructors [Video]. YouTube. 

Section 4: Announcements 
Course announcements are a great way to communicate with your entire class. You can use the announcement tool in Blackboard to let students know about changes in the course schedule or in your availability and to praise collective work, provide helpful resources, or detail events related to the course topics. Course announcements help develop an online teaching presence and support the pacing of online learning. Consider the three R's of course announcements: 

  • Regular
  • Relevant
  • Reminder

Additional Resources 

Ever Educating. (2022, June 24). 5 ways to use LMS announcements in online courses [Video]. YouTube.