Online Teaching Presence – Letting your students know you’re there!

Today I am going to repeat a post I wrote a few years ago, modified to help you as you move into teaching online when neither you nor your students signed on for this kind of delivery.

Instructor presence

… a sense of presence is “being there” and “being together” with online learners throughout the learning experience. It looks and feels as if ….the instructor is accessible to the learners and that the learners are accessible to the instructor and each other, and that the technology is transparent to the learning process.

Lehman, R.M. and Conceição, S.C.O (2010) Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching, Jossey-Bass, p. 3

Online presence is about engaging with your students in your online course .  This could be as simple as saying “hello!” or answering questions posted in a discussion forum, or posting reminders in the News tool.  Remember that while you may go into your online course frequently to read postings and grade assignments, your students can’t see you there unless you “talk” to them.  And if you don’t talk to them regularly, they will begin to think you are not there at all.

Establishing presence

While we normally talk about establishing your presence in an online classroom as part of how you design your course, I know you simply don’t have time for considering design in the way we would normally recommend.  So, in the short term,

  • Set expectations immediately (for yourself and for students), and place this information in easy-to-access locations.
  • Adjust the tone of your writing voice so you sound like you’re speaking to students.  Writing your course notes in a style that mimics how you would talk to your students in a face-to-face class will help bring you to life even without audio or video.
  • Post daily messages in the News tool in D2L – and I do mean every day, even over the weekends.  I know normally you might not check-in with students on a weekend, but they may very likely be very nervous about being abandoned in their online course.
  • Let your students know immediately where they can expect to hear from you during the course (i.e., is there an Instructor Messages forum they should be checking? Will you be using the News tool to send regular messages?), as well as how often (i.e., will you be checking the site daily? In the morning? Evening? How often will you be replying to student questions, etc.?) Once you’ve established your plan, stick to it. And if it has to change for some reason, let your students know.

In this time of Crisis

  • Integrate messages of care to your students – they are also adjusting to a life online they were not expecting, and may also be caring for children, parents, and themselves.
  • Reiterate in the News tool where they are in the course – what content should they be reviewing, what they should be doing with it, etc. and explain what is coming up
  • Set up places in the course where they can ask questions, or just post messages to each other (for example, using the Discussions tool for Course Questions and a Coffee Shop Topic)
  • Repeat expectations and keep letting them know where they can get help with technical issues, etc.
  • Let them know when they will hear from you next, and stick to your plan.  If you cannot make any deadlines yourself, make sure to tell them!

This is just the beginning – once you establish your presence, you will need to maintain it.  While I am recommending communicating with your students daily, don’t burn yourself out either.  The expectations you set should be for both them and you – it’s ok to let them know what is going on for you in your life right now as well.  We are all human in this!

For more help with ideas on how to engage with your students online, contact an instructional designer in eLearning (by emailing


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