Instructor Presence in Online Distance Classes

Instructor Presence in Online Distance Classes

Janet Lear (University of Nebraska at Kearney, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 4
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch174
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Abstract

Instructor presence are words that call to mind a professor at the front of a classroom lecturing to a room full of students. Today the image associated with instructor presence is quite different. The vision is one of an individual engaged with the student, leading, and mentoring students, and facilitating classes either visibly in the classroom or invisibly in the online environment. Instructor presence is a broad phrase that refers to the instructor’s jobs of structuring and presenting the materials as well as providing feedback and engaging with the student academically through e-mail, by telephone, or by instant messaging either text or video. The roles are different but the outcome is the same, student learning. Gone are the days where the instructor was the center of the class, lecturing and passing along knowledge to students. Because today’s learner is actively involved in the building of new knowledge, learning is more student-focused. As the environment changes, the instructor assumes a variety of roles from designer to facilitator to mentor. The new roles are the same for both instructors in the face-to-face classroom and instructors in the online environment. Instructors for classes in the online environment cannot just compile a site for the class with materials available to the students. Instructors need to have an online presence as they facilitate the class mentoring students, providing activities, encouraging students, and communicating with student on a regular basis.
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Introduction

Instructor presence are words that call to mind a professor at the front of a classroom lecturing to a room full of students. Today the image associated with instructor presence is quite different. The vision is one of an individual engaged with the student, leading, and mentoring students, and facilitating classes either visibly in the classroom or invisibly in the online environment. Instructor presence is a broad phrase that refers to the instructor’s jobs of structuring and presenting the materials as well as providing feedback and engaging with the student academically through e-mail, by telephone, or by instant messaging either text or video.

The roles are different but the outcome is the same, student learning. Gone are the days where the instructor was the center of the class, lecturing and passing along knowledge to students. Because today’s learner is actively involved in the building of new knowledge, learning is more student-focused. As the environment changes, the instructor assumes a variety of roles from designer to facilitator to mentor. The new roles are the same for both instructors in the face-to-face classroom and instructors in the online environment. Instructors for classes in the online environment cannot just compile a site for the class with materials available to the students. Instructors need to have an online presence as they facilitate the class mentoring students, providing activities, encouraging students, and communicating with student on a regular basis.

Online instructors should be willing to provide the leadership and mentoring necessary for students to become engaged and flourish. Distance education literature discusses the importance of both interaction and sense of community to student learning and the part that the instructor plays in creating the learner-centered environment. Developing a classroom community online, then, is a process that begins with social interactions among individuals and progresses to developing a sense of belonging and trust so that learners will engage with the instructor, their peers, and the subject matter in an active way. In the beginning the instructor is the common denominator, and the instructor’s ability to be present without being visible holds the class together while the students become acquainted. As the class progresses, the instructor’s presence keeps the conversation moving and the subject matter interaction on track.

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Background

As early as 1997, Sherron and Boettcher (1997) discussed the changing role of the instructor. Later Morris, Xu, and Finnegan (2005) reviewed the literature and found the roles included managing online communications and encouraging and providing activities to build community. Because instructors in the online environment play an important role in online learning through the structure they provide as well as their interaction with students, their presence in an online environment is just as essential to the online classroom as it is to the face-to-face classroom.

The various roles are defined in the literature for online learning. Students may do the learning, but teachers are at the center of this process as they provide instructional leadership fostering motivation, creating activities, and creating the supportive and encouraging environment agreed Hoy & Hoy (2003). If students are to grow as independent learners in the online environment, instructors should provide structure, leadership, and a respectful environment (McLoughlin & Luca, 2002; Jiang, Parent, & Eastmond, 2006; Waltonen-Moore, Stuart, Newton, Oswald, & Varonis, 2006). Lewis & Abdul-Hamid (2006) interviewed faculty members teaching in an online environment and found fostering interaction, providing feedback, facilitating learning, and maintaining enthusiasm and providing organization were all important functions. They concluded that the role of the online instructor “is neither static nor one dimensional” (96).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Student Engagement: Includes but is not limited to students’ interactions within the class with the material, with the other students, and with the instructor through e-mail, telephone, discussion forums, and instant messaging.

Engagement: Act of participating in the class, promoting involvement of others though discussion and feedback and includes both the instructor and the student.

Instructor Presence: The condition of being available or “present” for students even though they may not be able to meet with the instructor face-to-face.

Instructor Engagement: Includes the actions of the instructor to be a part of the class—feedback to students, posting materials and assignments, and encouraging students to be involved with the material and the other students. Includes but is not limited to the use of e-mail, telephone, discussion forums, and instant messaging.

Interaction: One event or object influencing another. Interaction for the online classes may be student and student, student and instructor, or student and content, with the focus on the process. (See Su et al, 2005.)

Hybrid Class: A class where students meet a predetermined times during the semester. Hybrid classes generally are those that utilize both the face-to-face classroom and the online environment. The class may meet at the beginning and end of the semester or at specified times during the semester for presentation of special materials.

Interactivity Of Design: Technology “for establishing of connections from point to point (or from point to multiple points). . . more feature-oriented and emphasizes the characteristics of delivery.” (See Su et al, 2005.)

Learner-Centered Education: The learner is at the center of the education process and actively engaged in his/her own learning. The instructor is the facilitator or mentor.

Distance Education Online: Classrooms where the students and the instructor are separated from each other in time and space. Other terms that also refer to online distance education include Internet-based education and Web-based education. The primary means of delivery for online distance education is the Internet, with materials available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students may access the material whenever the time is best for each individual student’s lifestyle and from a place where the student has Internet access and a computer to connect to the Internet. The majority of interaction is asynchronous, not real time. (See Moore & Kearsley, 2005; Simonson, et al., 2003.)

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