Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Be There and Be Aware

Many authors have pointed to what is known as "presence" as an important component of any successful online course. Presence is that special perception that the instructor is there with and for the students as they learn in a distance course. Lehman and Conceicao (2010) discussed presence in terms of "being there" and "being together." For distance courses, this suggests students perceive the instructor as interested in individual learning and that there will be interactions with others in the environment. To support this idea, let's look at Moore's work (1989). He suggested three distinct types of interactions: learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner. These interaction types form the backbone of what we know as presence. The intentional design of activities to explore content and materials is one way to encourage students to interact with the content. Communication between the instructor and one or more students is often what is described as learner to instructor interaction. Students working in groups and responding on discussion areas promotes learner to learner interaction. From the student's perspective, it seems as if the course has been built for them, that the instructor and others are there to assist the student, and that the technology assists the process.

Three dimensions of presence (cognitive, teaching, and social) have been suggested. Cognitive presence is seen as a combination of expert content knowledge coupled with an environment where communication is used for engagement. Teaching presence is the intentional design of instructional activities and environments to achieve stated educational objectives or outcomes. Social presence is about intentional steps allowing the instructor to project their personality and presence across distance to virtual students. Work by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) looked at presence from a community-building view. These authors also expanded the notion of types of presence and actively began to research the impact of presence on the Community of Inquiry model.

Humans are primarily social animals. Some experts say that learning is a social process. Presence is important since some studies have shown a relationship between the students' perception of the level of instructional presence and the students' perception of satisfaction with the instructor and the course. Additional studies suggested instructor presence was a much stronger indicator of perceived learning than peer presence. For both face-to-face and distance education, student contact with faculty, both in and out of class, appears to be a crucial factor in student motivation and persistence. We see instructor presence as one way to develop improved and increased contact between students and instructors. Remember, instructor presence includes cognitive, social, and teaching dimensions. The successful combination of all three dimensions creates a strong instructor presence in a distance course.

Students perceive strong instructor presence as if the instructor is beside them, guiding them in ways to improve their individual understanding. Students also perceive strong instructor presence as caring and compassionate. The only way students will know you are present in the course is for you to intentionally leave evidence of your engagement in the course. Your goal is for students to associate Announcements, feedback, comments on discussions, blogs, and wikis, and email messages with you. You want your username to appear regularly in the course in a variety of locations.