ART SCHNEIDERHEINZE, Ph.D.
Center for Teaching and Learning, School of Education Faculty
Developing a connection to the instructor is critically important to students. This is easier to do when you are interacting with students in the classroom. Establishing instructor presence in the online classroom is one of the many challenges for the instructor in the online environment. Because the online environment initially separates the instructor from students, instructors have to make an extra effort to create a strong presence in their courses; otherwise, students are likely to feel isolated, which is likely to lower learning achievement and increase attrition.
We believe that online instructors need to be intentional about creating a sense of presence in their courses so that students know that somebody is leading their learning experiences. There are three ways that instructors can establish presence in an online course: (1) helping students to see you as a real person, (2) communicating regularly, and (3) providing feedback to students on assignments.More specifically, online instructors are asked to
- Include a complete faculty profile in Blackboard
- Post at least two (2) videos in the course (e.g., a welcoming announcement)
- Host at least two (2) synchronous meetings (e.g., virtual office hours, discussions, etc.).
Furthermore, online instructors should
- Log in to their courses often (at least five days a week for a total of approximately 200 minutes of activity per week)
- Post 3 to 5 announcements a week
- Provide feedback to students on their assignments within 7 days of the assignment due date
- Respond to students' e-mails and posts in the "Ask the Instructor" forum within 24 hours (even if it is just to acknowledge that you received the e-mail and will respond with an answer soon).
Helping Students See You as a Real Person
Taking an online course can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several key techniques an instructor can employ to humanize online courses and thus improve the learning experience as well as success and retention rates. Before students gain access to their courses in the new term, instructors should
- Include a complete faculty profile in Blackboard. Your profile should include your first and last names, Kendall College e-mail address, a short bio (in which you can provide students with relevant professional experiences and share personal information that helps "humanize" you as an online instructor) in the notes section, and an image. (For best results, the image size should be 150×150 pixels.) If you are not completely comfortable posting a photograph, you can create and post an avatar (see DoppelMe or AvatarMaker).
In addition, you can include a work phone, office location, and office hours. If you teach completely online, you may want to provide students with information about how they can reach out to you for help (e.g., a cell phone number, with specific hours during which they can contact you; a meeting ID for a Zoom account; etc.) You may also consider including a personal link to your LinkedIn account.
- Post a welcome announcement. Your welcome in the class is one of the first things that students will see, so it is important to communicate your tone and personality. In addition, you can provide information about how the course is organized in Blackboard (e.g., where to find important documents and resources), and what they should do to get started. Blackboard now has a tool—called Kaltura Media Mashup—that allows you to easily record and post short videos, including a welcome video.
Throughout the term, the instructor should
- Post 3 to 5 announcements each week. While you can post reminders about about time-sensitive material such as upcoming due dates, you can also share additional insights about the resources that students are using in the week, summary feedback about students' work on a particular assignment, links to articles posted on social media that relate to the week's learning objectives, direct instruction on a skill related to the learning objectives, etc. Keep the announcements short so students are motivated to read them. Include course links when notifying students of new course resources or assignments. Consider recording short videos using Kaltura Media Mashup (see the link above for a video on how to create a video recording using your Web cam). The goal here is for students to see something new when they login to the course and see you actively communicating information to them.
- Actively participate in discussion forums. Facilitating discussion during the course is critical to maintaining interest, motivation, and engagement of students in active learning. There are many ways an instructor can participate. For example, he or she can identify areas of agreement/disagreement; seek to reach consensus/understanding; encourage, acknowledge, or reinforce student contributions; draw in participants, prompting discussion; and asses the efficacy of the discussion process.
- Provide direct instruction. Direct instruction is when you allow students to see your disciplinary expertise through your online interaction with them. Instructors can do this by presenting content and questions, focusing discussion on specific issues, summarizing discussions, confirming understanding, disposing misconceptions, injecting knowledge from diverse sources, and responding to technical concerns. This can be accomplished through announcements, participation in discussion forums, and synchronous meetings.
- Host synchronous meetings. You can offer synchronous chat sessions (synchronous means that the instructor and students are logged in at the same time) using a tool in Blackboard called Collaborate or other tools such as Zoom. Blackboard Collaborate is a web-based video conferencing tool in Blackboard that includes two-way audio, multi-point video, an interactive whiteboard, application and desktop sharing, breakout rooms, and session recording. Instructors can create a free account in Zoom, which allows for up to meetings with up to 50 participants for up to 40 minutes per meeting.) You can use synchronous meetings for direct instruction, to demonstrate a concept or skill and allow students to ask questions, to substitute for a threaded discussion, and so forth. You can use a free online scheduling tool, such as Doodle, to determine the best days and times to hold synchronous meetings with students.
Providing Feedback to Students on Assignments
Feedback is critical to learning. It helps a student become aware of strengths and weaknesses and keeps the student on target to accomplishing the course outcomes. Research shows that intentional, thoughtful feedback can significantly improve student performance. Feedback should be timely, specific, connected to course outcomes, and student-centered. (Click here to read more about our stance on Feedback.)
- Add written and visual feedback to student's submitted assignments. With inLine grading in the Grade Center, an instructor can easily view and add comments to assignments submitted by students (attached files and typed responses). With an attached file, the instructor can comment, highlight areas, strike through words, and draw directly on the submitted file and save this annotated document inside Grade Center. With a typed response, the instructor can see the assignment, but cannot comment directly in the student's submitted response.
- Record video feedback on students' submitted assignments. View the student's attempt in the Grade Center. On the right, below the box where you enter the score, click the down arrow to expand the blue box and reveal the "Feedback to Learner" box. Click the "A" button to open the full content editor. In the pop-up, you will see the text editing toolbar. To record a video with feedback to the student, click "Mashups", and then click "Kaltura Media Mashup".
- Create a screencast video. A screencast is a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration. You can use the Kaltura Media Mashup screen recording tool (in Firefox only) or other free online tool such as Screencast-O-Matic to record feedback to students. Students can literally watch a screencast of an assignment being graded with the instructor giving audio and visual cues. This creates a “virtual” conference between the instructor and student and allows the student to get a better understanding of the grading process. Instructors can archive these screencasts to demonstrate a student’s growth throughout the course and students can also reference the screencasts to avoid similar pitfalls in later assignments. You can also provide audio-only feedback using a free online tool such as Audacity. After recording the feedback, you can upload the file in the Grade Center.
- Provide summary feedback in an announcement. After assessing all of the students' assignments, post an announcement that summarizes what you observed that demonstrate achievement of the learning objectives. Point out areas that can still be improved and strategies students can use to implement the feedback in upcoming assignments.
- Meet with students one-on-one. You can schedule a day and time to meet with a student about his or her work during a synchronous one-on-one meeting using a tool in Blackboard called Collaborate or other tools such as Zoom.
It is very important that students submit all of their assignments through Blackboard, rather than to the instructor's email account. Not only does this allow the instructor to easily provide feedback via the Grade Center, but it also allows the work to be archived with the course so, if needed, Kendall College staff can review the students' grades and assignments submitted to a course. Having all work archived in a course also enables our accrediting agency to review student and instructor engagement in the course.
Kelly, R. (2014, January 7). Creating a sense of instructor presence in the online classroom. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/creating-a-sense-of-instructor-presence-in-the-online-classroom
Morrison, D. (2014, March 9). The next-big-thing in online education…learning in Real Time [Blog post]. Online Learning Insights. Retrieved from https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/tag/synchronous-tools-for-online-learning
University of Miami. (2016). Upload video to Blackboard with the Kaltura Media Mashup tool. Retreived from https://lpt.it.miami.edu/wiki/knowledge-base/upload-video-to-blackboard-with-the-kaltura-media-mashup-tool
Zelazny, J. (2015, December 22). Camera recording tips. Retrieved from https://wiki.rit.edu/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=122918357