Connect with Your Online Students through Intentional Instructor Presence!

Concurrent Session 6 & 7 (combined)
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Feeling lost or confused is the fastest way for students to lose interest and trust in an online course. Your presence is essential! Veterans and newbies alike can expect to walk away with at least one new technique to engage students and improve their next online course!


I currently work as an Online and Hybrid Course Development Analyst for the department of Social Work at MSU Denver. I graduated in June 2020 with a Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction, with special interest in equitable online and hybrid curriculum development. I have 12 years of teaching experience with diverse student populations including Students of Color, LGBTQ+ students, transfer students, adult learners, and first-generation students.

Extended Abstract

Importance of Developing Instructor Presence


 One of the biggest challenges in moving from a traditional classroom to an online format is fostering and maintaining an environment in which the students are engaged not only with the static learning materials for that course but also with the living, breathing person teaching the class. The little day-to-day interactions that help us create these environments in a face-to-face setting is difficult to replicate when moved online; moreover, this is typically overlooked when designing a course or teaching it for the first time as we tend to focus on the meat and potatoes of the course: the syllabus, instructional materials, assessments, etc. While no self-respecting teacher would walk in on the first day of a traditional classroom and simply drop-off these materials to their students and expect them to navigate it all for themselves, for many students in online classes this is what an online class can feel like to them if we don’t try to actively engage them. Your presence is essential even though you aren’t in the room with them. 


We have found that personal connections are particularly important at our Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) to help improve retention among students as they feel engaged in their online classes.  Retention of students at HSIs is a frequent topic of study, and other researchers have suggested methods for improving graduation rates and student performance at Hispanic-serving institutions (DiSanto and Guevara, 2019; Espinosa and Espinosa, 2012; Garcia and Ramirez, 2018; Martin and Meyer, 2010; Meling, 2012; Wolf, Lyons and Guevara, 2019).  These methods typically involve increased engagement and personal relationships.  It is particularly important to focus on course personalization and developing community as an effort to improve retention (Martin and Meyer, 2010; Meling, 2012).  Collaborative relationships and collective course projects also contribute to student success (DiSanto and Guevara, 2019; Garcia and Ramirez, 2018).  Human relationships and instructor presence are required in both face-to-face and online classes to help students succeed.

To this end, our Faculty Learning Community members have been exploring ways to improve instructor presence in online courses over the last two years, and we would like to share some of our findings with the OLC community. Specifically, we have developed a self-assessment tool to help instructors improve instructor presence in existing online courses and/or provide useful tips for instructors who are new to the field. This type of engagement is critical to student success at an HSI.

Our tool is not a traditional rubric in the sense that it does not score individual categories and look to check a bunch of boxes. Rather it poses four specific questions related to instructor presence, asks the instructor to meaningfully reflect on these aspects in their own course, and then provides specific examples to help improve this area of a course.  The intent of this tool is that you will use it for self-reflection or for thoughtful and intentional conversations with colleagues around improving instructor presence in your online classes.

 Plan for interactivity 

This workshop will introduce this tool to participants and ask you to evaluate one of your own existing (or planned) online courses. The workshop leaders will introduce the tool, pose each of the four questions, and provide a few examples (15 minutes).  Next, leaders will facilitate as participants work on assessing your own instructor presence in small groups using the self-reflection tool. These conversations will draw on group expertise, and  leaders will share research- and practice-based insights relevant to each individual discussion (60 minutes).  We foresee that many of the groups will generate useful tips and examples based on the participants’ collective experience, and we will provide time for you to share and discuss these ideas with the entire audience (15 minutes). As a means of facilitating idea development and sharing new perspectives, we have developed an idea-catcher to allow workshop participants to contribute directly to the ideas already shared in the self-assessment tool- we want this workshop to be a place where we can learn from each other!  This workshop is hands-on, and you will have time to work on your own classes in your own discipline.  Each participant will leave with at least one personalized technique you can employ to improve your next online course. 


As a participant, you will share questions and insights, and develop the ability to identify the high value strategies that make a difference to student learning.  You will exchange ideas about how to evaluate student engagement, and consider learning needs in light of accessibility, diversity of experience with higher education, and online learning. We will explore the idea of assessing and leveraging student expertise in virtual spaces, even as we invite you to share your own expertise with our group. As a participant, you will explore the concept of instructor presence and the relevance to student learning and success. You will see the tool our group developed to evaluate presence, and explore applying it to your practice.  While there are many options  and ideas about online learning, streamlining and focusing our instructional efforts is key for sustainable work for us, and for student learning. This tool will help you make decisions about which approaches yield the highest benefit, and will help you make sense of and choose among the many tools and strategies that currently litter our online landscape. A few specific strategies, intentionally chosen and consistently implemented can make the difference in your next online class, and this workshop will help you take the next steps in improving your instructor presence.


DiSanto, J. M., Guevara, C. (2019). The online learning initiative: Training the early adopters.  In Wolfe, K., Lyons, K., Guevara, C. (Eds.) Developing educational technology at an urban community college (pp. 79-93). SpringerLink.

Espinoza, Penelope P., & Espinoza, Crystal C. (2012). Supporting the 7th-Year Undergraduate: Responsive Leadership at a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 15(1), 32-50.

Garcia, G. A., & Ramirez, J. J. (2018). Institutional Agents at a Hispanic Serving Institution: Using Social Capital to Empower Students. Urban Education, 53(3), 355–381.

Martin, N. K., & Meyer, K. (2010). Efforts to improve undergraduate student retention rates at a Hispanic serving institution: Building collaborative relationships for the common good. College and University, 85(3), 40-49.

Meling, V. (2012). The Role of Supplemental Instruction in Academic Success and Retention at a Hispanic-serving Institution, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

Wolf, P. D. (2006). Best practices in the training of faculty to teach online Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 17(2), 47–48.