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Three Angles of Online Instructional Presence

For faculty the anticipation and stress of the academic year reaches a high point right before the start of a new semester. This tension arises because veteran instructors know the importance of establishing an ideal learning atmosphere at the start of a course; They know the first few sessions are like a comedian’s opening moments on stage; while the comedian must win over the audience quickly, a professor must communicate an instructional presence that is welcoming and challenging right from the start.

Faculty members developing online versions of face-to-face classes may find that they are “on stage” in an environment that differs in significant ways from the traditional classroom.  For starters, with email, discussion boards, videos, and webinars, online instructors have access to an array of tools to develop an instructional presence that supports learning and engages students whom they may never meet face-to-face.

Understanding that their instructional presence can be seen from three different angles helps faculty transitioning into the online realm.  These three angles include the professor’s persona, online interactions with groups of students, and private communication with individual students. To establish their personas, the instructors can use photographs and videos to communicate their personality, teaching style and hobbies—all of which shape the students’ impression of their professors.  For group forums, Faculty can structure discussion boards and use video conferences to establish a welcoming, inclusive learning community for students. Finally, one-on-one conferences with students, email, and comments on the work students submit provide opportunities for professors to establish a mentoring relationship with each of their students.  This third type of instructional presence often proves to be the most powerful venue for the delivery of effective online instruction; carefully developing lines of communication between the instructor and the individual students keeps the human element at the center of an online course.

Carving out Time for Effective Online Communication

Establishing the right online instructional presence for a course takes time, and faculty members need shortcuts because many other facets of course design also require their attention.  Four years ago, veteran instructional designer Dr. Sara Tarr began creating a tool that helps harried faculty cut the right corners as they convert traditional classes to online platforms.  Eventually, she developed ClearAlignment software to simplify the transition from face-to-face instruction to online delivery. Faculty simply copy/paste their course goals, assessments, and reading assignments into the software .  An instructional designer analyzes this information and produces an aligned map for the online version of the class.  The course map ClearAlignment generates shows the professor how her course might look in an online environment months, weeks, or days before the semester starts.  By showing faculty members how online instructors approach course design, ClearAlignment saves them valuable time—time that can then be spent developing a dynamic online presence that will continue to inspire their students throughout the semester.


Kelly, R. (2014). Creating a sense of instructor presence in the online classroom. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/creating-a-sense-of-instructor-presence-in-the-online-classroom/

Learning Engineer, CEO


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