Presence in the Virtual Classroom: A Philosophical Take

Since philosophy concentrates to such a high degree on understanding complex ideas in ways that are often counter-intuitive from a common-sense approach, strongly embedded in an intellectual history that many students have only peripherally made contact with before, it is important to make sure that students have access to materials and methods that maximize their ability to learn and refine their skills individually and alongside their peers and instructor(s). The three activities below outline how, in designing a course, I would attempt to achieve this by incorporating activities that involve the three types of presence outlined in the Community of Inquiry Framework.

Teaching Presence: Weekly Adobe Connect Office Hours 

In order to facilitate student-instructor interaction, weekly Adobe Connect sessions could act as a kind of “virtual office hours.” Since assigning materials and creating content to post in online modules can only do so much in reinforcing awareness of the role of the instructor in assisting with learning, these virtual office hours would allow students to see and hear me speaking to them directly, allowing me to employ my pedagogical strengths (e.g. using informal language and humour, appealing to personal experience) in one-on-one sessions that are directly targeting student concerns. In maintaining weekly Discussion threads for students to sign up for a slot, I could eliminate the possibility of overlap, while committing to being present regardless of sign-ups in case students want to casually “pop by” to pose a question (much like in-person office hours).

Cognitive Presence: Secondary Source Discussion Thread

To make sure that students have access to sustained communication to facilitate depth of understanding, I could use a bonus grade-based system wherein students–in a dedicated weekly Discussion thread–could recommend short secondary sources to read or comment on these sources (each option being rewarded up to a maximum number of points per course). I would be sure to regularly monitor these threads to not only make sure that bonus grades were properly attributed to students, but to make sure that quality contributions were being made. If poor sources were chosen, I would take the time to constructively point out why they are less than desirable–sometimes pointing out why something is not quite right can be just as helpful for learning as pointing out when something is useful. These posts would give students a chance to further develop and apply their understanding both in reading individually and conversing collaboratively.

Social Presence: Collaborative VoiceThread Video Presentation

In order to reinforce the “reality” of each student and have them develop a sense of community, one assignment I could use would be a collaborative VoiceThread video presentation. Students would contact each other in whatever way they see fit (e.g. messaging services, Skype) to work on the content and framework of their presentation, then prepare a small number of  their own slides, attaching a video of them explaining what they have created. I would design this project so that students had to draw on the work of other students in these slides/videos so that they are not highly individualized VoiceThread submissions, but individual contributions that are integrated into a whole after consultation with each other in a group setting.

3 Replies to “Presence in the Virtual Classroom: A Philosophical Take”

  1. I like the idea of creating a secondary source discussion thread where students can investigate and share related materials with the class. Also, I think offering bonus points for interaction via this thread would help facilitate activity while not coercing students to participate. It may also help alleviate some students’ fears over evaluations, which can be a real (if tedious) issue for some undergraduate courses. I think what you’ve described may best be suited to upper level undergraduate or graduate courses, but I think a secondary source discussion thread has the potential to be a fun social activity while adding learning value to the course.

  2. Hi, I really like the idea of weekly adobe connect office hours! It will definitely add a sense of community belonging and strength a teacher presence. Do you think it will be more effective to hold the virtual office hour on individual meetings rather than collective meetings? Maybe we hold individual office hour meetings on weekly basis and have an additional collective meeting session later? We will need to modify a format for the collective meeting session in terms of number of participants, but that way, I think, students will feel the teacher presence as well as the community.

  3. I wish I had a class like this when I was a philosophy undergrad!

    I’m very curious about the collaborative VoiceThread presentation. How would you make sure that students have to draw on each other’s work? How would you scaffold that kind of requirement? I think this is a great idea. You could even integrate it with Adobe Connect and have students conduct their presentations in a synchronous environment.

    I also love how collaborative the discussion has become here, and how you’re working out together the logistics of synchronous sessions and online office hours.

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