Faculty Development and Student Learning: A Deep Dive into Instructor Presence

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Instructor presence is equally important in traditional and online classrooms. Faculty must be intentional about creating an environment that encourages student learning. This session examines the results of a yearlong research and development initiative focused on leveraging technology to increase instructor presence and improve student learning, lower drop rates, and increase student/faculty satisfaction.


Laura Sliwinski, PhD, MHA is the Executive Dean of the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at Ashford University.
Dr. Michelle Rosser-Majors, Professor, serves Ashford University, in the College of Health, Human Services, and Sciences College and researches Leadership Development, Online Learning, Metacognition, and Motivation. She serves as the Program Chair for the Bachelors of Psychology Program. Dr. Rosser-Majors is a member of the American Educational Research Association, the Asian Research Consortium, the National Consortium for Instruction and Cognition, the International Journal of the Academy of Organizational Behavior Management (IAOBM) and the International Journal of Research in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management (IOBHM). Dr. Rosser-Majors is also the author of the text Becoming and Integrated Educational Leader and publishes, as well as reviews, for both national and international peer-reviewed journals.

Extended Abstract

Faculty development is an integral part of higher education, and improving the quality of instruction should be an institutional imperative, as better teaching leads to better student outcomes (American Council on Education, 2017). With that in mind, Ashford University and the College of Health, Human Services, and Science (CoHHSS) use a comprehensive and collaborative approach to faculty development in order to build and maintain faculty/student engagement and satisfaction, provide support for effective classroom management, promote high impact teaching practices, and increase student learning and success.


At the university level, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) offers faculty development to ensure faculty are able to meet course requirements including promoting high expectations, learning new and reflecting on their personal feedback strategies, leveraging technology in the classroom, and creating a culture of inclusion and empathy. There are also professional development opportunities to help faculty understand our student population and review student engagement data to encourage proactive interventions with at risk students. Faculty development initiatives at the college level emphasize the instructor’s role as an important factor driving learning quality in the classroom and a variety of professional development options are available for full-time and part-time faculty, including monthly  webinars,  a virtual Faculty Lounge featuring best practices in the classroom, and dashboard and systems training to help faculty leverage the tools and data available to make informed decisions about teaching practices and interventions needed to improve student success.


In 2016, the College of Health, Human Services and Science in partnership with CETL designed a strategic initiative to increase instructor presence in the classroom. College leadership and faculty agreed that instructor presence needed to be part of the long term faculty development strategy with a specific focus on student learning and success. Instructor presence is equally important in a traditional and online classroom because faculty must be intentional about creating an environment that encourages student learning.  A lack of presence may lead to negative consequences for the learner and the institution. We recognize that faculty teaching in an asynchronous online environment need to pay special attention to the way their teaching presence is perceived by learners and strong teaching presence is a critical component of the learning experience that needs to be planned and managed through critical reflection (Ozgur, 2013). Therefore, in 2017, the college launched a yearlong faculty research and development initiative focused on leveraging technology to increase instructor presence within CoHHSS courses with the goal of improving student learning and success rates, lowering drop rates, and increasing student/faculty engagement and satisfaction.


Instructor presence, based on three domains, cognitive, teaching, and social presence (Akyol & Garrison, 2008, 2011; Garrison, 2009; Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 2001), served as the foundation for the development of seven self-paced modules by four full-time faculty members in collaboration with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) media team. Five out of seven modules have launched to date and the final two modules are planned to launch by the end of June 2018. The first module started with an introduction and overview of instructor presence and the important role it plays in the student learning process. Each module built on of previous learning and introduced faculty to new strategies for positive cognitive, social, and teaching presence in their interactions with students in the online classroom including course announcements, discussions, and the delivery of gradebook feedback.

  • Module 1: Introduction to Instructor Presence

  • Module 2: Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: Developing Cognitive Presence

  • Module 3: Effective Feedback Can Be Priceless: Developing Cognitive Presence

  • Module 4: Trust Me: Developing Social Presence

  • Module 5: Who Are You?: Developing Social Presence (video, audio and social networking strategies)

  • Module 6: The Finish Line: Developing Teaching Presence

  • Module 7: It’s a Wrap (Review of Presence and surveys about how instructors will use strategies or why they will not.)


The college set a goal of 80% of all full time and part time faculty to complete the modules. The impact of this initiative will be analyzed after all seven modules are made available to faculty (tentatively June 2018). Upon completion of module 7, faculty will link to a “Presence Initiative Post-Assessment”.  Faculty will be asked to report on their understanding of the three domains of instructor presence (cognitive, social, and teaching) and their use of recommended strategies in their classroom. In addition, faculty will be asked to report on their perception of how the strategies they applied in the classroom to increase instructor presence impacted student engagement, performance, and satisfaction. This information will be used in parallel with a pre/post assessment of other course metrics (student outcomes, student engagement, and student satisfaction) to draw conclusions about the impact of increased instructor presence on student outcomes.   



Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(2-3), 3-23.

Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Understanding Cognitive Presence in an Online and Blended Community of Inquiry: Assessing Outcomes and Processes for Deep Approaches to Learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 233-250.

American Council on Education. (2017). Institutional commitment to teaching excellence: Assessing the impacts and outcomes of faculty development.  Retrieved from http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Institutional-Commitment-to-Te...

Garrison, D. R. (2009). Communities of inquiry in online learning: Social, teaching and cognitive presence. In C. Howard et al. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance and online learning (2nd ed., pp. 352-355).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1).

Ozgur, E. (2013) Being there: Establishing instructor presence in an online learning environment. Higher Education Studies, 3(1), 29-38.