As online professors we don't have the privilege of face-to-face contact with students during which they form impressions of us based on things such as facial expressions, tangible and intangible expressions of caring, and tone of voice. We have to connect with our students in different ways, one of which is what the research calls “instructor presence.” In fact, the presence that we demonstrate is really the first step in the process of connecting with and then influencing our students.
The reality is that our mere presence in the online classroom demonstrates care and concern that opens up our students to our positive influence. In addition, the presence we demonstrate early in the course determines the perception students have of our care and concern throughout the course. Below are two ways to establish presence in an online course:
- Use diminishing frequency of involvement. During the first week or two of class, faculty should have “routine” (read: “nearly daily”) contact with students to let them know you're there. Look for excuses to interact—send reminder emails, post tips for upcoming assignments, offer advice, post encouragement, and introduce students to institutional resources, etc. This amount of contact demonstrates that you are involved and concerned during a time in which students are forming their impressions of you. As the class gets into a routine and students feel comfortable with you and the course expectations, you can decrease your involvement of this type to the “necessities.” You will have established yourself as a caring and involved professor.
- Answer student questions before they ask. If you have taught a class a number of times, you know the typical questions students have about expectations and assignments. Try to stay a step ahead of your students and answer their questions before they ask. Doing so portrays a professor who is thinking about and anticipating student problems, including their confusion. Again, you are creating the students' impression of you as an active, caring, and involved professor.
Allen D. Meyer is an assistant professor and department chair of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University.