Instructor Presence in Online Courses: It’s Not Just a Façade
Concurrent Session 3
A profile of various methods to set, sustain, and enhance instructor presence in online courses. Based on survey data, we distinguish forms of instructor presence that students perceive as adding substantively to their learning experience versus those that merely regarded as a visual façade, adding style, but little substance.
As online education proliferates, course designers have grasped onto the set of findings that suggest Instructor Presence in an online course increases student satisfaction (Baker, 2010; Ladyshewsky, 2013, Wise, et al., 2004). There are a range of methods that a teacher can apply to introduce and/or increase his or her presence in an online course; popular choices include personalized videos of the instructor, interactions with students, in-depth feedback to discussion posts, and designing a course structure and content flow that promote high levels of student engagement (Swan & Shih, 2005). Some forms of instructor presence have been shown to promote student satisfaction in online courses, suggesting it is a critical design element in online pedagogy (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005). However, there is scant evidence regarding which of these approaches are valued by students (Sheridan & Kelly, 2010). Closing this gap, we argue, helps improve the efficiency of the online course design and the effectiveness of its delivery.
We conducted an empirical study to distinguish between those forms of instructor presence that students believe add substantively to their learning experience in an online course and those that are merely a visual façade, adding style, but little substance. Our overall hypotheses was that online students value substance over style; moreover, they can see through the façade of superficial, synthetic presence, yet appreciate an instructor’s presence that meaningfully contributes to their learning.
To test this issue, we collected data from student exit surveys across multiple iterations of an online graduate business course to assess the degree to which various forms of instructor presence perceived influence student learning. Additionally, we analyzed in-course Learning Management System analytics to assess students’ use of specific course materials intentionally designed to directly enhance instructor presence.
Our preliminary findings suggest that students do, indeed, place a high value on many types of instructor presence in online courses. However, students place significantly more importance on elements of instructor presence that support substantive learning opportunities for them, such as instructor created content lecture videos, course assignments that directly apply content material, and detailed feedback on their performance. Students saw less value in elements of instructor presence that provide a visual presence or interaction without simultaneously adding to their learning experience, such as instructor introduction videos, bio sketches and introduction discussion boards.
These findings support and add to previous research that demonstrated the importance of instructor presence in terms of course structure and design. In particular, they demonstrate the importance of creating a high level of cognitive discourse in a community of inquiry that leads to student learning, (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005). Significantly, our results confirm that contrary to popular suggestion, not all methods and modes to enhance instructor presence are productive. Given the time required to develop many of these methods and modes, such as a personalized course overview, online instructors may wish to rethink the value of certain options. Fundamentally, our results highlight the importance of emphasizing substance over style to setting and sustaining valid, engaging, and respected instructor presence. Our data, both objective and anecdotal, indicate that many students see through the façade of stylistic enhancements to course design, and question its legitimacy and usefulness. Hence, our results suggest instructors aiming to improve their presence should follow a more productive path in investing effort in improving the substantive structure and content of online courses.
In this Emerging Ideas Session, we will provide a looping PowerPoint slideshow that demonstrates:
- The various methods faculty can use to set, sustain, and expand instructor’s presence in an online course
- The distinction between stylistic vs. substantive methods.
- The forms of instructor presence that add to students’ perception of the instructor’s presence in the course
- The types of instructor presence that students perceive as improving the meaningfulness of the learning experience
- How students’ behaviors within the online learning management system signal the value of some forms of instructor presence
Throughout the slideshow, the co-presenters will engage in conversation with attendees in an attempt to learn even more effective ways of creating instructor presence in our courses. Ideally, this conversation will help instructors to improve their understanding of and identify paths to enhance their presence in their own online course. Besides the PowerPoint slideshow, we’ll provide participants a summary profile of the report.
Goals: after this presentation, participants will:
- Understand the various ways instructors can build and enhance presence in their online courses
- Clarify the difference between substantive and stylistic presence
- Identify the types of instructor presence that students perceive as meaningful and valid
- Determine productive paths way to build instructor presence into current and future online courses
Baker, C. (2010). The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation. Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), n1.
Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.
Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013). Instructor presence in online courses and student satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 13.
Sheridan, K., & Kelly, M. A. (2010). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 767.
Swan, K. & Shih, L.F. (2005). On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(3), 115−136.
Wise, A., Chang, J., Duffy, T., & del Valle, R. (2004). The effects of teacher social presence on student satisfaction, engagement, and learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31(3), 247-271