Social Presence from the Start: Online Self-Introductions

Concurrent Session 10
Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

This presentation offers examples of research-based introduction forum topics for the instructional designer or online educator seeking to increase social presence in their courses. How to design the introduction forum, including the use of text-based and audio/video-based responses, is included.


Dr. Tammi Kolski is an adjunct faculty member at the University of South Carolina where she also serves as the dissertation chair and committee member of doctoral students in the Learning Design & Technologies Department. She is also an adjunct instructor at Coastal Carolina University, Southern New Hampshire University and Central Michigan University. Before entering the higher education field, Dr. Tammi Kolski was a clinical psychologist for more than 25 years. She has been teaching in the online environment since 2011 and places student engagement at the top of her course designs and pedagogy. Dr. Tammi Kolski has published multiple articles in education journals as well as co-authoring two books.
Dr. Jeremy Bond is currently director of online learning for Alliant International University, holding undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees from Central Michigan University (CMU) where he held various professional positions for more than twenty years. Jeremy's professional e-learning technology career dates back to 1997. When he isn't in a classroom - physical or virtual, he's providing support and guidance to someone who is. With current adjunct faculty appointments at CMU, University of Arizona Global Campus, and former work at Mid Michigan College (MMC), Jeremy teaches a range of subject matter, including information literacy, business communication, digital leadership, computer information systems, educational technology, and even history of the Mafia. He is. Away from employment settings, he is a dedicated husband and father, a long-time numismatist, friend, and confidant.

Extended Abstract

     Socialization and connections among students are a natural yet central part of the learning process (Jones-Robert, 2018; Laffey et al., 2006). In the online learning environment, it takes intentional course design to incorporate activities that allow for student-to-student interactions to avoid feeling a lack of social presence. Therefore, how learners interact with each other in an online learning environment becomes necessary to address. The purpose of this presentation is to offer examples of introduction forums for the online educator wanting to increase social presence in their course.  Social presence, as offered within the research of Garrison and Archer (2000), is a construct of the Community of Inquiry online instruction framework. Social presence, with the use of computer-mediated communication channels, is the individual’s perception that their presence within a group of people is recognized, valued, and respected which boosts the feeling of being connected to other group members (Tasir & Al-Dheleai, 2019).

     Although a teacher is not physically sharing the learning space of an online learning environment, it is important for students to feel that they are interacting with a real human being to develop a teacher-student relationship. Putting a face and voice to the instructor, helps students feel there is a human teaching their course. In computer-mediated communication channels (e.g., email, online lecture, and discussion board) the role of instructor self-disclosure in relationship building is more powerful than non-mediated contexts. The reason why self-disclosure affects relationship satisfaction is that students feel a strong social presence of their teacher (Song et al., 2019). Instructor engagement in the introduction discussion forum not only conveys a message of care and concern for their students but avails themselves to being the conduit for connecting learners with each other, with themselves, and with the content being discussed.  The instructor is instrumental in the introduction forums to both model response expectations as well as showing students that their contributions, thoughts, and opinions are valued by their instructor.

     This presentation focuses on introduction activities to not only promote relationship building in online classes by building a community of learners between the students in the online course, but also to establish a relationship with the course instructor through the instructor’s presence and self-disclosure. Understanding that relationship building starts from knowing each other, utilizing introduction forums is a way to offer instructors and students a platform for coming to know each other. Using a non-risky introduction prompt allows students to creatively find an informal opportunity to share common interests or experiences. Having a dedicated discussion for course introductions helps build a sense of community, where learners begin to identify with the group, build trust and develop personal relationships (Peacock & Cowan,2016). Developing introduction forums topics that respect the importance of student autonomy and support the anytime, anyplace aspect of online participation “serve to move learners towards an authentic learning community with a clear understanding of the interests, needs, and work habits of their virtual colleagues” (Dixon et al., 2006, p. 3).

     Online students often work asynchronously and feel they are alone in the course. The best introduction activities help students create connections and build a sense of camaraderie in the online learning environment while also allowing instructors to get to know their students and build better relationships. If social presence and a feeling of community are important for learning to advance, course designers and facilitators must develop ways to create a community of learners early and help to sustain it throughout a course. Introduction forums would allow learners working at a distance to make connections, learn about each other, and encourage the development of trusting relationships. While text-based discussion boards are standard in online learning, video discussion boards offer a new and exciting opportunity for students to engage with one another and to discuss their interests and backgrounds. Video discussion forums show participants they are not alone and that there are others moving through the course with them.

     Ultimately, there is no singular strategy to increase social presence in the online learning environment. The use of creative,purposefully designed introduction discussion forums has been found to foster student-to-student and instructor-to-student connectivity in a personal yet safe manner. The authors of this presentation will provide both research-based and personal experiences with multiple introduction discussion prompts that align with the Community of Inquiry framework, in particular the social presence constructs. Regardless of how it is achieved, successful cultivation of social presence can lead to more motivated students, successful student engagement, and effective online instruction.

Plan for Interactivity

     An introduction forum example will be used at the start of the presentation as a way to bring forth attendee interaction right from the beginning.  Attendees will also be encouraged to interact with examples offered throughout the presentation, in addition to sharing their own perspectives and examples of introduction forums used.

What the Attendees Will Learn, the Takeaways

     How to design the introduction forum including the use of text-based and audio/video-based responses will be included in this session. The presenters offer examples of introduction forums they have used in their own online classes in addition to research based reasoning for using introduction forums. Individuals attending this session will leave both the knowledge for how to compose creative introduction forums as well having been exposed to lessons learned from the presenters (and other attendees) on the use of different introduction activities.


Dixon, J., Crooks, H., & Henry, K. (2006). Breaking the ice: Supporting collaboration and the development of community online. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 32(2), 1-14. https://www.

Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2000). A transactional perspective on teaching and learning:A framework for adult and higher education. Advances in learning and instruction series. Elsevier Science, Inc.

Jones-Roberts, C. A. (2018). Increasing social presence online: Five strategies for instructors. Florida Distance Learning Association's Journal, 3(8), 1-4.

Laffey, J., Lin, G. Y., & Lin, Y. (2006). Assessing social ability in online learning environments.Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 17(2), 163–177.

Peacock, S., & Cowan, J. (2016). From presences to linked influences within communities of inquiry. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning,17(5), 267-283.

Song, H., Kim, J., & Park, N.(2019). I know my professor: Teacher self-disclosure in online education and a mediating role of social presence. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 35(6),448-455.

Tasir, Z., & Al-Dheleai, Y. (2019).Web 2.0 for fostering students' social presence in online learning-based interaction. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 9(1), 13-19.