Reflections on Different types of Teaching Presence

I currently do not teach online courses, so my reflection is more about presence in my face-to-face course and how I might consider each type of presence in an on-line format.

Social Presence: I understand social presence to be the real connections between students and connections between students and the instructor as real people. One example of social presence amongst students is the semester long group project that students develop in weekly small group meetings. This fosters social presence as it involves group work, engagement, decision making, identifying group members strengths and weakness and so on. Such a project would be difficult, I think, to do in an online format unless broken into more discrete tasks where students could work in pairs or small groups. For student-instructor social presence, I always start a course with an introduction about myself – academic and personal background, how I got to where I am and how all this is helpful for their learning. In smaller classes I ask students to do the same introductions so that I can learn who is in the room, where their strengths and limitations are on the course content. I also emphasize that students are there to learn from each other as much as from me. This would be easy to transfer to the on-line environment through voice thread as we did in in EFOT courses.

Cognitive Presence: I understand this to be how students engage with the materials, apply the concepts and check their own learning. Many class assignments would do this as they involve applying concepts learned in an assignment.  One examples – students need to design a research instrument using lectures, weekly readings and examples, then swap this with a partner to critique each others instruments and share their assessment with the partner. This involves active learning by application of skills in design, critique and feedback and includes some social presence.

Teaching Presence:  I understand this refers to an instructors presence (real or virtual) in managing the learning process. In each of my lectures I try to embed small activity to engage the class in what I have just shared – for example, Ask someone to “define the concept of reflexivity in their own words” then ask others to “share examples of how you would use reflexivity in your group project”. Simple exercises so that I can engage with the class, check their understanding, discuss confusing elements, and students can listen to thoughts and struggles of others. I also share lots of anecdotes of field experiences – good and bad – and ask how they would do it differently. Perhaps this also intersects with cognitive presence.  I struggle with how to do an interactive lecture like this online.

Presence in the Classroom

Social presence: teacher and students as real persons.

In my fully online doctor or ministry course I believe students have found it easier to perceive me as a real person than I them. In my lectures each week I try to incorporate examples from my own experience. I also lecture from within my study and students have commented on “learning a lot about a person by the art and artifacts in their study.”

One of the assignments in the course requires students to make a 30-minute live audio-video social analysis presentation on their own professional context. This is a time when the student becomes most “real” to me, and perhaps also to classmates, as a three-dimensional person. However, only one or two students do this each week across the semester, which means this is a one-off opportunity and some students are not having this opportunity until the very end of the semester. Another opportunity students have to get to know each other socially is via a facebook site, which I think does work well for this purpose. However, I have not participated in the fb site because 1) I dislike facebook, and 2) I feel my absence there may enhance the students’ social presence there (note: the “presence” language in this context is new to me in this week’s readings, but the concept has been in my thinking about this previously).

I like the idea of using VoiceThread for discussion early in the course to enhance social presence. Perhaps I might have students do one audio discussion post early on, and then one audio-video post a week or two later.

Cognitive presence: students as meaning makers.

One assignment in the course requires student to use interpretive methods from the course to analyze a short ethnographic observation experience in some common social situation such as a high school football game, or a PTA meeting, or even an hour spent in a coffee shop. This explicitly requires students to draw on material from the course to make meaning of (and thereby come to “know” in a new way) everyday life experiences and prepares them for more rigorous analysis of their professional context and experiences later in the course. I like this assignment and think it works well.

Teaching presence: teacher as… teacher.

In a physical classroom I feel comfortably and confidently “present” as a teacher. Online I struggle with this. I find it awkward to record a lecture in front of a computer without any sort of meaningful sense of student presence. I find it even more awkward to lecture live—in which case students are “present” but I cannot readily discern the degree to which they are connected with me, or I with them, which causes me to feel not-entirely-present. I know that my comments in asynchronous discussions and in feedback on assignments can and does advance my teaching presence. But this issue of the lecture remains an important open question for me: how can I (given my particular connection-seeking persona) communicate and teach effectively in an online context?

Presence in the Online Classroom

I have several activities in my courses that fall into the three different levels of presence.

Cognitive Presence: I have several activities where students convey knowledge but the one activity that sticks out where they share knowledge with each other is with discussion posts. I typically post a hopefully thought provoking question that they have to think about and for an evidence based opinion and they are required to comment on at least two other classmates post, which I’m finding to be common. At least with my graduate students, this is going well and they really do their homework with their responses, obviously some better than others.

Teaching Presence:  Since this is really about me as the teacher being present in the course space, I accomplish this a few different ways. One is with an introduction post. Similar to what we have see with these EFOT courses, I have started a discussion board where I give a little information about myself and my background and throw in a few personal details about my kids or pets.

Social Presence:  I think this is best portrayed through my lectures. I use Voicethread as a voiceover tool with my powerpoint lectures. For my nutrition course, I have largely taken my traditional classroom based course and put it online. So, with these voiceovers I feel like I can let my typical lecture style come through in the online space, I can add a little humor, I rarely do retakes so they are getting the real deal as if I was in front of them, minus the questions I typically throw out in a live lecture, I now do this with built in study questions and I give them the answer on the next slide.