Part 1: What’s the Difference?
For many instructors, the most obvious difference they feel when teaching online is the lack of immediate communication with and feedback from their students. It can be difficult to establish rapport with your students and make yourself approachable when you are at a distance. Being present in your course is more than just responding to student emails and posting assignment feedback in a timely manner. It’s you being you. It’s your teaching, supporting, clarifying, occasionally redirecting, and just interacting with your students. It encourages both instructors and students to participate and deeply engage with the course content. According to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education., good practice:
- encourages student-faculty contact
- encourages cooperation among students
- encourages active learning,
- gives prompt feedback, including both summative feedback and actionable formative feedback
- provides clear instructions regarding due dates and participation
- provides clear expectations for student work and participation
- uses multiple means of instruction, engagement, and assessment to support
Rules and regulations aside, presence is about keeping the human experience in online classes.
Being present from the beginning – Introduce yourself!
While being present throughout the course is critical, setting the tone at the beginning of the course is especially so. One of the first things you normally do in an in-person class is to introduce yourself. In an online class, introductions are even more important online as they are likely your students’ first point of contact with you. Video introductions help your students feel more connected to you and let them know there is a real, live faculty member actively teaching the course. In fact, research on video introductions (Delaney & States, 2014) indicates that they can improve student engagement at the beginning of the course and encourage positive student perceptions of you as the instructor.
By beginning the semester personally introducing yourself and sharing your background, expertise, and interests in a welcoming manner, you can show your students that you are approachable and interested in their learning. Here are a few examples from other IU faculty.
Regular and substantive interaction
Being present in your online class is not only about good practice and supporting student learning and engagement. Instructor presence and communication is what makes the difference between a class being categorized as an online/distance education class versus a correspondence course. Both the US Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) have defined the difference between “distance education” and “correspondence education” based on the “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor.”
Interaction is two-way, mutual, and reciprocal. While there is never any guarantee that students will interact with you, providing good-faith opportunities for regular and substantive interaction and responding in a timely manner when students take you up on these opportunities support student learning and engagement. As you think about how you can interact with your students, consider the following strategies
- providing formative feedback at the course or group level and encouraging discussion of ways to apply the feedback
- soliciting student feedback on assignments, activities, and materials at various points in the course and replying to the good, bad, and confusing.
- participating in discussions with formative coaching, examples, or additional resource suggestions
- building in student check-ins with you before mid-term or at the early stages of a larger project to answer questions, address concerns, and provide individual guidance (this is obviously easier for smaller classes)
- posting announcements summing up students’ contributions from the preceding module, addressing any outstanding misconceptions or confusion, and providing a segue into the following module.
- offering optional synchronous video meetings for review prior to an exam or to address questions regarding projects or larger assignments
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.