Instructor Presence: A Sustainable Practice for Improving Student Success, Retention, and Satisfaction in the Online Classroom


Dr. Michelle Rosser-Majors, Program Chair, Dr. Sandra Rebeor, Associate Professor, Dr. Christine McMahon, Program Chair & Associate Professor, and Dr. Stephanie Anderson, Assistant Professor, Ashford University

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Receiving the 2019 Effective Practice Award by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is an honor – thank you, OLC! The Instructor Presence Initiative has evolved tremendously from our original plan and efforts to the current state. Most importantly, we are not yet finished! It all started in 2016 when our team was asked by College of Health, Human Services, and Science leadership to improve instructor presence with the use of technology. After much research, many meetings, and countless creative hours, as well as the tireless work by Learning Technology Specialist Becky Hayes as designer, a 7-series module training was created for all full-time and associate faculty within our college.

The content for this series is based on the Community of Inquiry Model (COI) (Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 2000). The training entails the concepts of this model, ​social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (Akyol & Garrison, 2008). To learn more, please visit


Throughout the project and via pre-module, as well as post-module surveys, our team learned about our faculty’s various viewpoints on this concept, challenges regarding work time, and instructors’ comfort levels for sharing personal information. It also became clear that some faculty were less comfortable with the use of technology. Our team was therefore especially focused on meeting the various needs of our faculty throughout the entire development process. The first module launched in May of 2017, and the remaining six modules followed every few months subsequently, with the final module being released in October of 2018.

Data collection began in January of 2019 and is still ongoing. However, initial results are very positive. A one-tailed, paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare drop rates among those who completed the entire series of modules. Results revealed a significant difference between pre-treatment (M = 15%, SD = 6%) and post-treatment conditions (M = 11%, SD = 7%), t(57) = -3.76, p = .0002.  These results suggest that completion of the presence modules made a marked improvement in the potential strategies being employed by instructors and hence, affecting retention.  In addition, a one-tailed, paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare student success rates among those who completed the entire series of modules.  The analysis revealed a significant differences between pre-treatment (M = 79%, SD = 8%) and post-treatment conditions (M = 82%, SD = 10%), t(57) = 2.41, p = .0096.  These results suggest that completion of the presence modules by instructors made a marked improvement in student success.

Given the initial success of this initiative and the encouraging feedback by instructors, our institution has now created an Instructor Presence Certification, which is available to all faculty throughout the university. While our work is not yet done, we are so pleased with the progress of this initiative to date and sincerely hope that all online faculty and staff receive direct benefits so that instructor and student success can be enhanced in the long- and short-term. For more information on each type of presence and our initiative and research, please visit our website:


Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D.R. (2008). Community of Inquiry: The Role of Time. First International Conference of the new Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), Banff, April.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Drs. Rosser-Majors, Rebeor, McMahon, and Anderson, from Ashford Unviersity, are recipients of an OLC Effective Practice Award for this model, resulting in actionable outcomes for instructional and student success.  They will be recognized at the OLC Awards and Leadership Ceremony and Reception at Accelerate 2019.  Effective Practice awards recognize programs and initiatives that support Learning, Faculty, Students, and provide both Scalability and Access so that others may integrate them into their own institutions.  You can read more about this Effective Practice here.

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