Cultivating Classroom Presence

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.

3 Replies to “Cultivating Classroom Presence”

  1. What an interesting class first of all!

    I imagine this is more common, than not, but I like how your activities touch on parts of several types of teaching presence domains. I can see that while the index card activity predominantly applies to cognitive presence, the discussion following calls for a form of collaborative thinking when you are getting people to contribute to one idea and learn from each other. I think that reinforcing each domain in any way through other activities can only health your classroom learning environment. I also wonder how some of these activities might be modified to incorporate more of the online learning environment. I could see, for example, how students making brief videos to post on Canvas about their visits to other places of worship could be a fun and engaging online learning activity.

  2. Courtney,
    Having students attend a house of worship from a different is a great idea, from an academic and personal standpoint. Are students encouraged to attend alone, or do they go with other members of the class? While the social links formed with various communities are clear, I wonder how the students’ different visits inform and shape the social community of the course. You mentioned students attend these courses early in the semester. Do you find their experiences work their way into classroom social interactions?

  3. Conferencing with students one-on-one can be an invaluable teaching tool for both your teaching presence and as a formative evaluation. If it becomes too time consuming, perhaps you could dedicate a class period to it where instead of holding class, students must meet with you. You might want to check out the Canvas scheduler for managing those consultations in an online environment.

    I wonder, do you incorporate any contemplative pedagogy into the course? That could be a way to bring in student-student interactions with reflection.

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