5 Research-Backed Tips to Improve Your Online Teaching Presence
Michael G. Moore, an economist, questioned how he could assist rural farmers in East Africa in developing business management skills back in the 1960s, decades before the introduction of online learning platforms. He envisioned giving in-person seminars to assist them in learning contemporary farming techniques or establishing a community-based credit union in his town. Nevertheless, there was one impediment in his way: the farmers he wished to educate resided in isolated areas with inadequate roads and no telephones. The concept couldn’t be scaled up.
As a result, Moore devised an ingenious solution: seeing that radios were inexpensive and widely available, he created courses that could be broadcast from a local radio station. The experience, however, rapidly became apparent to him as he realised it was nothing like presenting a formal lecture in front of pupils. He was no longer able to engage in informal conversation with the farmers, respond to their pressing questions, or go around the farm with them in search of ways to increase productivity. Moore was first concerned that distance learning was less personal and less effective than in-person instruction. As a result, he dedicated his professional life to figuring out how to make it more human.
Moore states in Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning that “the ability to humanise the interaction with distant learners is vital in all forms of distance education,” reflecting the conclusions of other visionaries in the field, such as Khan Academy founder Salman Khan. While teachers new to online instruction may be focused on delivering content—a reasonable first step given the abrupt shift forced by the pandemic—also it’s important to become familiar with your technology tools so that you can connect with your students, build trust, organise your virtual classroom for ease of use, and ensure that your technology is serving human-centered ends. For example, while teachers new to online instruction may focus on delivering content—a reasonable first step given the abrupt shift forced by the pandemic—also it’s important to become familiar
This can help you improve one of the most important aspects of your virtual classroom: your teaching presence. “There is a psychological and communications space that must be crossed with separation,” Moore argues in a 1997 essay. The ability to communicate effectively is necessary, but it is not sufficient on its own. In fact, some of the modifications you make to your approach may come as a complete surprise.
TIP #1: GO BEYOND SPEAKING PRESENCE
As a result of the abrupt transition to online learning that occurred in the spring, the importance of building good relationships with students has become even more apparent. That’s difficult to accomplish in an online world.
A 2018 study by Samford University professor Lisa Gurley argues that in a physical classroom, teachers can rely on nonverbal ways of communication, such as facial expressions and tone of voice, which “can steer facilitation of student learning.” However, building a strong teaching presence in mixed and online learning contexts is significantly different than doing so in a traditional face-to-face classroom, according to Gurley.
This may be due to the fact that, according to Kathleen Sheridan and Melissa Kelly of National Louis University in Chicago, pupils perceive the presence of teachers in online environments to be more general. Researchers found that students saw a teacher’s presence via the lens of every encounter they had with them, from emails to announcements and assignments to far more subtle background signals, such as the way the course was organised. The digital tools that you employ become extensions of your teaching, blurring the distinction between your physical and virtual personae, in other words.
According to Sheridan and Kelly, “While students generally placed a high value on communication and the instructor’s responsiveness, they did not place as much value on synchronous or face-to-face communication.” They also note that “being able to see or hear the instructor received surprisingly low ratings relative to some of the other indicators in the study,” they write.
In the realm of online learning, your physical presence is less important than your virtual presence. Consequently, when teaching online, it is preferable to concentrate on asynchronous lessons and communications: Have you established clear routes and ground rules for online communication with your students? Do your pupils understand what you expect of them? Have you considered establishing a “hotline”—a rapid means for people to reach you in the event of a critical question? Are you responding to students’ inquiries in a reasonable amount of time when they contact you?
TIP #2: IT’S MORE THAN JUST FACE TIME
Teaching does not begin in the classroom; rather, it begins much before that in the form of lesson planning and sequencing for an upcoming class. Charles Hodges, professor of instructional technology at Georgia Southern University, and his colleagues wrote in a paper that “what we know from research is that good online learning arises from rigorous instructional design and planning.”
Tension can be elevated when trying to locate files or links, or when switching between browser tabs. Students will experience and reflect this stress.” To avoid having to hurriedly look for your schedule on your screen, close any programmes that you won’t be using and print it out, suggests Annie O’Shaughnessy, a community college teacher in Vermont.
Before you enter the classroom, practise going through a lesson until you are more comfortable with the mechanics of doing things like switching between windows or changing the settings of your tools on the fly as the situation demands. Despite the fact that you will not be flawless, and you shouldn’t expect to be, you will have more self-assurance.
TIP #3: SIGNAL PRESENCE THROUGH CLARITY AND ORGANIZATION
The findings of a 2015 study on instructor clarity were based on an examination of roughly 50 studies, which revealed that “increased levels of clarity are connected with increased levels of student learning.” Clarity was not restricted to a straightforward presentation of concepts: The researchers make a distinction between content clarity—”My teacher is clear when providing content”—and process clarity—”My teacher conveys clear requirements for the assignment”—in their findings.
While communication is more likely to break down in distant learning, this is especially true in the case of asynchronous classrooms, when information is disseminated through a learning management system (LMS), online documents, email, and other digital modes of contact.
The fact that online classrooms, like actual classrooms, must be navigable and easy to understand is often overlooked—and that your online teaching presence is often communicated not by posture and tone, but rather by the structure and clarity of your virtual classroom. In order to establish an effective online teaching presence, you might spend time configuring your learning management system (LMS) so that resources are organised in a central location so that students don’t get lost as often, or you might spend time guiding students through common tasks like submitting assignments, asking questions, and using the suite of technology tools you’ve chosen.
TIP #4: GET STUDENT FEEDBACK—AND RESPOND TO IT
Your online teaching presence will not be complete when it is launched; it will be a work in progress. Researchers discovered in a 2019 study that successful online professors routinely solicited student input “to determine what was working and what wasn’t working.”
Researchers note that “one significant factor in the development of an award-winning course was the way in which instructors had collected data on the course or engaged with existing evaluation data, pondered on how to enhance the course, and implemented modifications.”
Educating students that their opinions count is essential if you want to increase your online teaching presence in the future. Following a review of the literature, the following are six questions that we propose you ask your students:
If you had to rate your comfort level with technology in our virtual classroom, you would rate it from 1 to 5.
Have you had any technical difficulties, such as not being able to hear me or being unable to connect to the internet, during this conversation?
Are my lessons well-organized, and are my assignments understandable to my students?
Is it simple for you to find what you’re looking for?
Do you believe that your voice is being heard?
What can I do to make our online classroom a better place?
TIP #5: FOCUS ON SURFACING CONNECTIONS AND BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
The author of a 2016 study, Jason Dockter, a professor of English at Lincoln Land Community College, states, “To counteract the isolating effects of an online course, teachers can aim to communicate with students more regularly and more informally.” In this case, it is not about being attentive to a specific academic challenge, but rather about demonstrating to children that “the teacher is genuinely interested and invested in every student.”
There are a plethora of approaches that may be used to foster a sense of human connection in your online classroom. During the school year in New Hampshire, elementary school teacher John Thomas convenes a casual morning gathering to begin each day. However, rather than doing it in real time with all students engaging at the same moment, Thomas utilises the digital app Seesaw to record and share a video greeting that students can respond to on their own time after it has been shared with them.
In the classroom, “we see minor details as our students walk in—we keep our finger on the pulse of our learning community,” Thomas says. “Every day in the classroom, we notice little nuances as our students come in.” “However, at a distance, it is difficult to determine how well students are doing.”
It can be the difference between students feeling alienated and feeling welcomed in your virtual classroom if you use simple yet effective strategies such as greeting students at the door or conducting a rose and thorn check-in. Other strategies include asking students to share an appreciation, apology, or aha!
Above all, teacher presence is about establishing a personal connection with your students: If they are familiar with you, they are significantly more likely to trust you and to believe that you are there for them. In the opinion of Sarah Schroeder, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, it is critical for teachers to realise that some children may experience difficulties both intellectually and emotionally during the pandemic. That can be extremely isolating.
“One of the most common concerns is the feeling of being disconnected while participating in online learning. We don’t want learners to have the impression that they are interacting with a computer. They are exchanging information with one another. I agree with you. “There is substance,” writes Schroeder.