Developing Presence as an Online Instructor

by Todd Conaway, Yavapai College, Arizona (Educational Technology)

I suppose there is “presence” as in time and space and there is also the type of presence you have in the online environment. The former is more like, “Are you easily available to your students,” and are you present in course discussions and active member of the class. The latter might be more like what does the internet say about you? How does your personality come across in the digital spaces? I am not sure if you can have one without the other. Just as when you are talking to someone in a hallway, you are obviously there in time and space, but you also can’t help but to share your personality with the person you are speaking to. PRESENCE IN TIME AND SPACE I have a colleague who just completed a master’s level course that was delivered online. After lengthy discussions about the absence of his instructor in class activities he finally emailed the faculty in charge and was told that the class followed a constructivist model and that the learning was created by the students. Therefore, the instructor was the barley visible guide on the side. My questions were like these:

  • Did the faculty have any synchronous office hours? Like a phone number? A Skype contact? If so, was it encouraged that students use it?
  • Were there any synchronous times and tools for students to meet? With or without the faculty? How was that encouraged by the faculty?
  • Were there any kind of office hours in real buildings or coffee shops in the off chance that someone taking the class actually lived near the institution the course was being delivered from?
  • How active was the instructor in the course discussions in the LMS? On blog postings or in Facebook groups?
  • Does the course use Twitter as a means to communicate trouble? Happiness?

We all have a syllabus that says we are located at this email address. If we are an adjunct, maybe we give our students our cell phone numbers? Sure, there are ways to communicate online in what in many cases has become a completely asynchronous environment. Email dominates the communication in most online college courses. But email is terrible and time. And time is important. I do not have any answers for the best way for instructors to travel in time, but I do think a good question to ask is, “How can I best relate information to my students?” In many cases, email will not be at the top of the list. So what are the options in this digital age where we wear all the world as our skin? PRESENCE AS IN “WHO ARE YOU?” In 2008 I delivered a conference session titled, “Your Digital Personality: The Real You in Your Online Class.” At that time I also bought my first domain and used it for the handout for the conference session. I handed out business cards with the conference logo, the URL of the digital personality site and a Pink Floyd shirt.

While at that time I felt like I was becoming more comfortable in the online space, it was still a big learning curve and I spent much time trying to figure out how to control the web and how to make it reflect just who I am what I want to share. The Digital Personality site has an RSS feed on the right side from a Diigo list I created. It has some good articles on digital presence. Do you ever Google your name? Does the real you show up? If nothing shows up, what does that say about your comfort on the web? Your digital footprint, large or small, should reflect who you are out there in the real world. Just like the real you in a classroom reflects who you are outside of the classroom. You can’t escape that and it is becoming harder and harder to escape it online.

As we push for a better and deeper digital literacy for our students, we should expect the same or more from our faculty.

The World Wide Web is meant to connect things. In many ways, classrooms are meant to contain things. That is particularly true of the Learning Management System. How do we use the web to share the great things we do as educators? As people with unique and wonderful gifts? Taking advantage of the web and using it to share our work is one way to build a larger and fuller image of you on the web. Just recently our institution allowed faculty to create their “probationary portfolios” online. They had all been required to turn them in in three-ring binders up to that point. How to you share the digital work you create? Do you use YouTube to record lectures? Do you use Jing or some screencasting tool to create demonstrations or micro-lectures? Do you curate relevant course content for students using Diigo or some other tool? How do you see the opportunities the web/the computer provides? As possibilities or as detrimental deterrents to learning in the classrooms that exist today? Most likely, a little of both. To me, it is being able to send my mother who lives in another state a video of her granddaughter singing a Leonard Cohen tune my mom loved so much.

I don’t care what you say, that is invaluable. One thing I have learned from working with teachers is that they are usually a humble lot and don’t see what they do as “really amazing.” I know that they do amazing things every day. And I know that sharing those things they do outside the classrooms they work in and the Leaning Management Systems they teach from is hugely important to the progress we will make in education in the coming years. The internet provides a great medium to do just that.

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