The online learning environment presents unique challenges because traditional face-to-face opportunities for creating a sense of community are not available. However, students still want to have a sense of community in their online courses. Further, they want opportunities to get to know their instructor and have a sense that the instructor is present and involved.
Frequent communications and direct responses to students' work and questions are critical. Further, going beyond written communication by creating audio recordings and producing your own videos are two effective methods of giving your students a sense of your presence.
At CSS, instructor presence is considered a crucial part of maintaining our Benedictine values in the online environment. Additionally, there is a growing body of research substantiating the importance of instructor presence for the success and retention of online students.
Research indicates that students respond positively when instructors are actively involved with online discussion forums. When instructors don’t get involved on a weekly basis, students can feel as if they are just talking amongst themselves. The article “Guidelines for Online Course Moderation and Community Building from a Student’s Perspective” (2014) is a good one to read on this topic. If it’s not feasible for you to respond to every student every week (that’s often the case), here are some ideas for being present in discussion forums that are effective and less time consuming:
Providing regular communications to your students is a great way to make a personal connection with them on a consistent basis. In addition, consider creating video or audio announcements so that students hear your voice.
Welcome videos create a personal connection by letting students see you and hear you talk in an informal setting. Students want to know who their instructor is (not just their professional credentials), and a video takes them beyond the text to really showcase your personality.
If video seems like too much for you to tackle, consider writing a welcome letter to your students in which you incorporate photos of yourself and your family, pets, favorite places, etc. Paint is a great tool you can use to create collages and edit photos.
Recorded feedback is distinctly different from written feedback because it allows you to “talk” to students and convey your feedback in a conversational, personal manner that is less cold and distant than written feedback. Audio feedback can also reinforce written feedback given to students to increase their comprehension because it provides information in both auditory and visual modes.
Providing video feedback through screencasting tools such as Jing is another option.
The resources presented here offer concrete findings and specific ideas for you to implement in your teaching.