One of the most important elements of a successful online course is developing a strong sense of instructor presence. However, while that’s easy to say, it’s not always so easy to actually do, especially if you’re new to teaching online. 

While our Foundations of Online Teaching course takes a more in depth look at instructor presence, we know sometimes you’re just looking for some quick tips or different ideas to point you in the right direction. Here, you’ll find just that, with useful tips and strategies you can use to develop your online presence so your students feel comfortable and supported in your courses. 

If you have any questions on this topic (or any other related to teaching online) please let us know! 

Developing a Connection 

Research has shown that higher levels of interpersonal interaction, even more so than in a traditional face-to-face course perhaps, are correlated strongly with better outcomes in online courses. In fact, some studies suggest that interpersonal interaction is the single biggest factor in student success in online courses, more than effective use of technology, or even clear learning objectives. So how do you foster interpersonal interaction in an online course? Here’s are some of the most important things you can do: 

  • Host live interaction with students. Even if your course is largely asynchronous, giving students the chance to interact with you and other students in a live format can help them get to know you better and may help many feel more comfortable asking questions. Attendance in these kinds of interactions can be low, despite them being highly beneficial to students, so it’s a smart idea to require that students attend a set number throughout the term. 
  • Give feedback. Students need to know how they’re doing in the course and where they can improve. Giving students detailed feedback on their assignments, especially with tips on how they can improve their work in the future is very important when learning online. You may even want to use a tool like Bb Annotate or leave audio or video comments. 
  • Posting in the discussion board. Discussion board can be a very important tool in building instructor presence. Students report much greater satisfaction in their online courses when instructors post regularly on discussion boards or other forums, invite student questions, and answer them quickly. Be clear in what you expect students to post (share a rubric even) and respond to student posts as quickly as possible. 
  • Respond within a given time frame. Let students know when they can expect a response from you via email or in the LMS and stick to it. Students should know that they’ll be able to get answers or assistance in a set amount of time. 
  • Use video. Don’t just be a picture or a block of text to your students! It’s very important to create a welcome videos and even short weekly announcements or introductions for each module for students in video form to let them see you and get to know you as a person. It can also be useful to give students a chance to do this as well (Flipgrid can help with this!). Yes, this takes time, but it pays big dividends in student success and you may even be able to use the videos for several terms. 
  • Use technology wisely. Technology in your course shouldn’t put another layer between you and the students. Make sure you’re using tools that offer clear connections to your goals and learning objectives. 
  • Send announcements. Sending regular announcements to students can help keep them engaged and make sure they’re on task in a course. Keep announcements short and to the point, and include important information on upcoming due dates, course information, etc. Use announcements judiciously, as students will begin to ignore them if they aren’t aren’t relevant or too frequent.
  • Be accessible. Students should know quite easily when and where they can contact you and, as mentioned above, they should know a time frame in which they’ll hear back from you, with regard to questions, discussion posts, assignments and other course materials. Add an FAQ page to clarify when you’re available, how students can best contact you, how soon you’ll respond if they email, text, or call you. 
  • Let your personality shine through. Find ways to let your students get to know you outside of just being their instructor. Share things you enjoy, make sure they know what you look like, and offer opportunities for interactions outside of just covering course materials. Yes, it’s a time investment, but it can transform how invested students are in your course. 
  • Reach out. Seeing a student struggling in your course? Reach out! Some students simply won’t ask for help even if they need it. You can’t make a student do the work or be successful in your course, but you can let them know you’re there if they need it!

For additional tips and resources for building instructor presence, contact Learning Technologies!

Resources to Learn More