When preparing an online course, design and material creation often take center stage. This preparation is needed for a quality course offering, however what is often overlooked is that a course that is designed in accordance with best practice may not represent a quality learning experience for students if the virtual learning community is not present. A strong virtual learning community begins with strong instructor presence.
Just like in a face-to-face classroom, virtual students look for the instructor to guide instruction. An instructor who is active in course communication, discussions, and feedback in a virtual classroom will model this type of behavior for students and students will follow suit. Students who know that their instructor is present in the virtual classroom will prepare quality assignments and respond to discussions with quality comments because they know that their instructor will be watching and providing feedback. A strong virtual learning community begins with and is driven by the instructor.
Judith Bowman in an article for the Oxford University Press blog recently considered the importance of interaction in an online environment. Bowman taught an online course and felt involved in course discussions and feedback, however she received feedback that a student did not see her as “real.” After considering this comment, Bowman concluded that just like a face-to-face classroom, instructor presence goes beyond interaction, but includes personality. With this in mind, Bowman suggest various ways to add instructor presence in an online environment:
- Incorporate pictures of the instructor and students
- Include an instructor introduction and brief autobiography
- Include introductory videos for the course and to introduce content
- Include web-conferencing with students
Methods like the ones above allow the course design and content to be supported by a strong virtual learning community for students. Bowman concludes by saying that instructor presence must be introduced and maintained throughout a course. Interaction throughout the course will allow students to know that the instructor is available and with them throughout their educational journey.
Instructor presence to create a quality virtual learning community is a key component of a quality online course offering.
Bowman’s full article can be found here.
OUPblog (2014, October). In person online: the human touch. Retrieved from http://blog.oup.com/2014/10/music-education-online-in-person/