Whether you are a new or seasoned online instructor, understanding how to establish and maintain instructor presence is a commonly shared challenge. What is known about online learners is they want to know their instructors are engaged and regularly interacting in the course. Students also express how important it is to know that their instructors care about them.

There is a natural distance inherent in online classrooms which necessitates purposeful actions and intentional structures to prevent isolation and to foster connection. There is great news… this distance can be overcome!  Moreover, research has indicated that instructor presence has a relationship with perceived student satisfaction and success. Being there for your students can make a difference!

Being present goes a step further beyond students perceiving that their instructors are there. By definition, instructor presence is “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social process for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.” This may sound like a significant undertaking, but rest assured that you can craft your presence over time and that you have ample support from the Ecampus team. We can help bring your ideas to life!

Keep in mind that curating instructor presence will be an evolution. Learning environments and experiences are dynamic. In addition, the composition of students will change each term, so learner needs and wants will continually shift. Strategies used within a specific context may not work for another, and that is okay.

Let’s get started!

Try starting out small by exploring different ideas. Don’t be afraid to change directions if one approach doesn’t work. With all that said, what are some strategies for establishing and maintaining presence which can be leveraged today?

Establishing presence

  • Welcome announcements
  • Instructor introduction video
  • About your instructor page
  • Course overview video
  • Virtual office hours or individualized virtual sessions to connect with students
  • Personalized language to humanize the learning experience

Maintaining presence

  • Non-graded community building spaces to connect around complex learning activities
  • Announcements to send regular updates, reminders, and check-ins
    • Tip! Announcements can also be leveraged to share and highlight valuable connections, expand upon those insights, and provide relevant resources for learners to explore.
  • Monitor learner progress
    • Regular and timely feedback which is clear and actionable
    • Outreach to learners who are struggling or engagement is lacking
  • Present content in diverse ways
    • Module overview videos
    • Audio recordings (e.g. podcast)
    • Screencast demonstrations
  • Engage in course discussions
  • Solicit student feedback
    • Tip! Consider adding a short anonymous survey in the middle of the course.

As ideas begin to percolate, please do share those with your Instructional Designer so that together you can explore different strategies and tools that will work best for you.

References

  • Budhai, S., & Williams, M. (2016). Teaching Presence in Online Courses: Practical Applications, Co-Facilitation, and Technology Integration. The Journal of Effective Teaching,16(3), 76-84.
  • Ekmekci, O. (2013). Being There: Establishing Instructor Presence in an Online Learning Environment. Higher Education Studies, 3(1), 29-38.
  • Jaggers, S., Edgecombe, N., & West-Stacey, G. (2013, April). Creating an Effective Online Instructor Presence. Retrieved from https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/effective-online-instructor-presence.pdf
  • Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013). Instructor Presence in Online Courses and Student Satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1). doi:10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070113
  • Sandercock, I. (2014, October 14). The Importance of Instructor Presence in Online Courses. Retrieved from https://teachonline.asu.edu/2014/10/important-instructor-presence-online-course/
  • Smith, T. (2014, September 30). Managing Instructor Presence Online. Retrieved from http://teachonline.asu.edu/2012/08/managing-instructor-presence-online/#more-1069

If you’ve ever needed an excessive amount of photographs or diagrams to accurately describe a physical object for your class, you may benefit from a 3D model.

Standard media types, including text, photographs, illustrations, audio, video, and animation, are crucial to the online learning experience. A 3D model is essentially another media type with a lot of unique qualities.

What is a 3D model?

3D models, in this case, are digital representations of physical objects. 3D models generally consist of a polygon mesh and a surface texture. The polygon mesh is a “shell” comprised of the different surfaces of a 3-dimensional object. There are three main components that make up this shell: vertices (points), edges (lines), and faces (planes). For what should be clear from the previous sentence, polygon meshes are often referred to as simply “geometry.” There are a lot of other technical terms associated with polygon meshes, but in practical application, you may never need to learn them.

The surface texture, at its most basic, is an image, mapped onto the surface of the polygon mesh.

A texture can be as simple as a solid color, or as complex as a high-resolution photograph. The texture will be wrapped onto the surface of the geometry with the help of a set of instructions called UVs. UVs are a complex topic in and of themselves, so it’s good enough that you just know they exist conceptually.

These textures can have physics-based properties that interact with light to produce effects such as transparency, reflection, shadows, etc.

You’re probably thinking to yourself now, that 3D models are too complicated to be of use in your courses, but that’s not necessarily true. The composition and inner workings of 3D models are complicated, for sure, but you don’t need to be an expert to benefit from them.

Where did they come from, and how are they used?

There probably isn’t a day that goes by where you don’t experience a 3D model in some way. They are everywhere.

3D models, in digital form, have been around for decades. They have been used in industrial applications extensively. 3D models are used to generate toolpaths for small and large machines to manufacture parts more consistently than a human could ever hope to. 3D models are also used to generate toolpaths for 3D printers.

3D models are used in movies, animations, and video games. Sometimes entire worlds are created with 3D models for use in virtual and augmented reality.

Modern interfaces for computers and smartphones are awash in 3D graphics. Those graphics are rendered on the screen from 3D models!

How can they help me as an educator?

If you’re still not convinced that 3D models hold any benefit to you, I’ll explain a few ways in which they can enrich your course materials.

  1. 3D models are easily examined and manipulated without damage to physical specimen.
    • If you are involved in teaching a course with physical specimens, you are no doubt familiar with the concept of a “teaching collection.” A teaching collection is a high-turnover collection that gets handled and examined during class. Normally these collections break down quickly, so instructors are hesitant to include rare and fragile specimens. Having digital proxies for these rare and fragile specimens will allow students access to otherwise unknown information. This has even bigger benefits to distance students, as they don’t have to be anywhere near the collection to examine its contents.
  2. 3D models give students unlimited time with a specimen
    • If you have a biology lab, and the students are looking at skull morphology, there’s a distinct possibility that you would have a skull on hand to examine. If there are 30 students in the course, each student will have only a short amount of time to examine the specimen. If that same skull was scanned and made into a 3D model, each student could examine it simultaneously, for as long as they need.
  3. 3D models are easily shared
    • Many schools and universities around the world are digitizing their collections and sharing them. There is a fair amount of overlap in the models being created, but the ability to add regionally exclusive content to a global repository would be an amazing benefit to science at large. Smaller schools can have access to a greater pool of materials, and that is good for everyone.
  4. 3D models have presence
    • A 3D model is a media object. That means it can be examined, but it’s special in the way that it can be interacted with. Functionality can be built on and around a 3D model. Models can be manipulated, animated, and scaled. A photograph captures the light bouncing off of an object, that is closer to a description of the object.  A 3D model is a representation of the actual physical properties of the object, and that strikes at the nature of the object itself. This means that a 3D model can “stand in” for a real object in simulations, and the laws of physics can be applied accurately. This realistic depth and spatial presence can be very impactful to students. Much more so than a simple photograph.
  5. 3D models can be analyzed
    • Because 3D models are accurate, and because they occupy no physical space, they lend themselves to analysis techniques unavailable to the physical world. Two models can be literally laid on top of one another to highlight any differences. Measurements of structures can be taken with a few clicks. In the case of a machined part, material stress tests can be run over and over without the need to replace the part.

These are only a few of the ways that an educator could leverage 3D models. There are many more. So, if you still find 3D models interesting, you’re probably wondering how to get them, or where to look. There are a lot of places to find them, and a lot of techniques to build them yourself. I’ll outline a few.

Where do I get them?

3D models are available all over the internet, but there are a few reputable sources that you should definitely try first. Some will allow you to download models, and some will allow you to link to models on their site. Some will allow you to use the models for free, while others will require a fee. Some will have options for all of the aforementioned things.

How do I create them?

The two main ways to create 3D models are scanning and modeling.

Scanning can be prohibitively expensive, as the hardware can run from a few hundred dollars, to many thousands of dollars. But, like anything else technological, you get what you pay for. The quality is substantially better with higher-end scanners.

For something a little more consumer-grade, a technique called photogrammetry can be employed. This is a software solution that only requires you to take a large series of photographs. There is some nuance to the technique, but it can work well for those unable to spend thousands of dollars on a 3D scanner. Some examples of photogrammetry software include PhotoScan and COLMAP.

Modeling has a steep learning curve. There are many different software packages that allow you to create 3D models, and depending on your application, some will be better suited than others. If you are looking to create industrial schematics or architectural models, something likeFusion 360, AutoCad, or Solidworks might be a good choice. If you’re trying to sculpt an artistic vision, where the precise dimensions are less important, Maya, Blender, Mudbox or Zbrush may be your choice.

How to use them in your class:

There are a number of ways to use 3D models in your class. The simplest way is to link to the object on the website in which it resides. At OSU Ecampus, we use the site, SketchFab, to house our 3D scans. The source files stay with us as we create them, but we can easily upload them to SketchFab, brand them, and direct students to view them. SketchFab also allows us to add data to the model by way of written descriptions andannotations anchored to specific structures in the model.

The models hosted on SketchFab behave similarly to YouTube videos. You can embed them in your own site, and they are cross-platform compatible. They are even mobile-friendly.

As you can see, there is a lot to learn about 3D models and their application. Hopefully, I’ve broken it down into some smaller pieces that you can reasonably pursue on your own. At the very least, I hope that you have a better understanding of how powerful 3D models can be.

A big THANK YOU to Nick Harper, Multimedia Developer, Oregon State University Ecampus

On May 2nd, Ecampus held our annual Faculty Forum which showcases the outstanding work that OSU is doing in online education. Sixteen interactive sessions allowed faculty the opportunity to learn more about innovative teaching methods and share their experiences in online teaching with each other.

This year we were delighted to have Dr. Kevin Gannon, a professor of history and director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Education at Grand View University, present a keynote address on a very timely and relevant topic for all online educators – designing online classrooms where inclusive discussions can take place while effectively engaging students with challenging or controversial materials.  His presentation – Sea lions, trolls, and flames – oh my! Navigating the difficulty places in online learning – was a thought-provoking and inspiring call to action for online educators.

If you are considering developing an online course with Ecampus, you may be curious how you will translate your lectures to the online format. There are several effective online lecture presentation formats available to faculty. They differ in the type of video recording required and the kind of post-production work required after the initial recording.

Image listing 4 formats for online lecture presentation: Video, narrated lecture, light board, and interactive video.
Online Lecture Formats: Qualities & Complexity

Each of the presentation formats can be effective, however the more complex types can offer additional advantages for your students. Why should you consider producing the most challenging of the five online lecture formats? To answer that question, we need to understand what exactly an interactive video lesson is. Let’s start by first looking at a sample interactive video lesson used in a fall 2017 course titled The Biology of Horticulture (HORT 301). You can watch a four minute excerpt of the twenty-minute interactive video lesson by selecting the image below:

Still image from video of Dr. Ryan Contreras teaching using an interactive video lesson in the Biology of Horticulture (HORT 301).
Dr. Ryan Contreras teaching using an interactive video lesson in the Biology of Horticulture course. Select image to watch the four minute video.

As is seen in this excerpt the interactive video lesson has as its foundation a video recording of a Lightboard presentation. Layered over that recording are interactive elements that control video playback—sometimes pausing, other times auto-advancing to specific clips—or to progress through the lesson, trigger a student’s input of feedback, and, most importantly, increase the amount of student engagement in the lesson. In the case of HORT 301 the interactive element prompts the solving of a temperature indices formula. The base video could have been used by itself. However, it is the melding of the Lightboard presentation with the interactive feature that makes the interactive video lesson a highly engaging presentation for the online environment.

The model below proposes how the elements of personal and mediated communication immediacy are brought together to make an interactive video lesson a compelling experience.

Model showing proposing how mediated communication and personal communication of an interactive video complement each other in an interactive video lesson.

In this project instructional design, in conjunction with visual design, video staging, and interaction design, was focused on solving the issue of how to teach a self-paced formula-drive lesson in the online environment. The result is an interactive video lesson that presents as a unified visual space that fosters an actual “see through” psychological perspective. Although clearly a media production, this approach to online lesson presentation implies an unmediated learning experience.

It is enhanced by the camera literally seeing through the Lightboard glass to the instructor conducting the lesson fostering a sense instructor presence. This type of interactive lesson design is desirable because it presents classroom-like learning in a student-controlled online environment. The result is an interactive video lesson that is new in design format but familiar experientially.

Is Interactive Video For You?
A decision to adopt this approach to lesson design will likely be successful if you have a lesson that is formula driven. Certainly math subjects and many science subjects might benefit from this approach. Is it also applicable to humanities courses? Can you imagine teaching language, music, or poetry with an interactive video lesson? If you can, contact Ecampus. We would be glad to help you adopt this approach to lesson design for use in your online course.

Bright red and orange maple leaves against a blue skyResearch supports the value of online student-to-student interaction and building community among learners. Week 1 intro discussions—Let’s get acquainted. Tell us about yourself!—are a staple of interaction among students in online and hybrid courses. Can a Week 1 intro discussion that introduces students to one another also actively engage them in learning course content while building community with peers?

Karen Holmberg, Assoc. Prof. of Creative Writing, uses an “Interview Haiku” exercise in her hybrid WR 241 Introduction to Poetry Writing course that combines students introducing themselves and introducing peers while practicing the popular three-line poetry form.

After being introduced to haiku, syllable counting and marking stresses in the first week, Prof. Holmberg’s students interview partners during an in-class session. (In a fully online course, this step could be done through other means, for instance, in a Google doc or by text or email.) For these intro interviews, she provides a set of six questions such as “Describe your preferred environment: urban, woodland, seaside, desert, etc.?” and “What is your favorite animal and why?”

Text showing portions of interview questionsFollowing the interviews, students write haikus to introduce their interview partners to the class as well as haikus to introduce themselves. Imagine the challenge of introducing someone else, or yourself, in three brief lines!

Each student posts these two intro haikus in an online discussion. Then each student replies to another student by copying and pasting the other student’s two haikus in the reply box and counting and marking the syllables and noting the stressed syllables in the haiku. The instructor can follow up with her students by offering timely feedback individually and collectively through the discussion forum, through comments in the grade book, and in subsequent in-class discussions.

Looking for ideas and effective practices for online discussions that enable learners to share, comprehend, critique and construct knowledge?  Try The Art and Science of Successful Online Discussions.

Do you have an intro discussion assignment that engages learners in course content?

References:

Al-Shalchi, O. N. (2009). The effectiveness and development of online discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(1). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no1/al-shalchi_0309.htm

Palenque, S.M., & DeCosta, M. (2014, August 11). The art and science of successful online discussions. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/art-science-successful-online-discussions/

Rubin, B., & Fernandes, R. (2013). Measuring the community in online classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(3), 115—136. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1018304.pdf

If you’re searching for an engaging, authentic, and personalized way to assess your students’ learning, consider developing an ePortfolio assignment for your online course. The benefit of ePortfolios, or digital collections of student learning artifacts, is twofold: you can formatively assess your students’ learning over time, and you can help your students craft a personalized, customizable end product that serves as both a networking tool and a professional presentation of their skills and abilities to showcase to future employers in a more humanized way than a standard resume.

There are multiple approaches to structuring an ePortfolio assignment. One method is to ask your students to gradually add to their ePortfolios each week. This allows you to assess your students’ work over the course of the term, and it allows your students to make meaningful connections between all of the learning artifacts they collect.

With any ePortfolio assignment, consider building in a reflection requirement to help encourage students to connect their learning. Reflection helps students make connections between what they learned, what they still hope to learn, how these things connect to the next course in a series, and how these things apply to experiences beyond their online class. Reflection is also an opportunity for you to encourage your students to connect the dots between their academic, professional and personal lives.

As a starting point, OSU’s College of Liberal Arts has some great reflection tips and questions for you to provide to your students.

Two Tools: Canvas ePortfolios and Google Sites

You will need to select a tool for your students to build their ePortfolios. If you are looking for an integrated tool in your LMS, consider Canvas ePortfolios. This tool is useful because it is not specific to your course, but rather specific to each Canvas user. This means each student can create as many ePortfolio sites as they wish, and they can continue to access these even after your course is over.

Canvas ePortfolios also eliminate the submit it and forget it experience with digital assignments; with a few simple clicks, students can quickly add assignment submissions they are proud of to build structured digital archive of their achievements throughout their online college experience. They can also export their ePortfolio at any time, meaning they could save a copy to take with them after they leave OSU.

Another option is a Google App called Google Sites, which is a free platform to build a website. All students and faculty have access to Google Sites with your ONID login. The benefit to using this tool is the flexibility of platform; students can apply a previously created template or build a custom site of their own.

When considering any ePortfolio platform, it is important to remember to play with the tool as an instructor to understand how the tool works and what the student experience will be like. Consider setting up a model ePortfolio to familiarize students with what you generally expect, but encourage them to go above and beyond to personalize their ePortfolios. This will empower students to engage with the process of customizing their collection.

ePortfolio Tool Resources

References

Miller, R., & Morgaine, W. (2009). The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their Own Words. Peer Review, 11(1), 8-12. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/benefits-e-portfolios-students-and-faculty-their-own-words

Barrett, H. (2011) Balancing the two faces of eportfolios. Retrieved from: http://electronicportfolios.org/balance/balancingarticle2.pdf