I teach an introductory religion course in which we de-center dominant faith traditions in the US, and give particular attention to traditions that have been historically marginalized. The course is reading and writing intensive.
Cognitive presence. An activity I use to establish cognitive presence is index card inquiry. The question for this activity is always the same: what is the author’s argument/thesis? Students are given 5-7 minutes to write their response on the card and submit it. Then, we enter a class discussion on the same question, and arrive at a collective understanding of the author’s thesis and method of argumentation. This activity supports cognitive presence in that it challenges students to read critically and to distill the main argument of a text, and it enables students to learn from one another.
Social presence. Students in this course are required to attend a house of worship that practices a tradition with which they are unfamiliar. For example, a self-identified Christian student may attend a Buddhist temple. The students attend in assigned groups, and provide a class presentation on their visit. This assignment is early in the semester and immediately requires communication and coordination, external of the instructor. The shared experience allows students to learn about one another as they engage the course material.
Teaching presence. As a new instructor, I continue to imagine and explore my distinct teaching presence. A new activity I implemented this semester is I required each student to have a 15 minute consult with me to propose their research project. (This was rather time consuming with 21 students, and I couldn’t do it this way with a larger class.) The intent is to have an opportunity to directly engage, early in the semester; to clarify course expectations; and to hear from each student. This activity helped reinforce the tone of the course as an inviting learning environment.