Getting Close While Teaching Remotely: Instructor Presence

I keep hearing the phrase physical distancing, social closeness touted as an alternative to the typical social distancing. I’ve definitely taken that to heart in my personal life, scheduling virtual hang outs and using an array of technology to keep me connected to friends and family. Despite this awareness of the importance of social closeness in my personal life, I’m now noticing it as a key element missing in my Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) classroom. When learners attend live Zoom sessions and interact with Canvas pages, they’re virtually present, but that social connection is missing. My virtual classroom isn’t developing the dynamic that I typically cultivate in my face-to-face classes. 

My tried and true strategies of eavesdropping on small group work to gain insight into student understanding or using well timed puns to ease the tension of difficult problem solving don’t translate well to the online spaces. With that in mind I’ve found myself seeking out resources for fostering engagement in my ERT classes. While ERT is most assuredly not online teaching, I’ve found myself looking to online teaching strategies to replace my no longer useful face-to-face strategies. The CTL’s access to 20-Minute Mentors provided me with some key tips (all OSU faculty have access to this great resource), and I’d like to share some resources I found useful when thinking about ways I can support that social closeness in the virtual classroom. 

I found Dr. Courtney Plott’s What Teaching Strategies Help Engage All Learners Online? 20 Minute Mentor video to be a great orientation to think about strategies I can use to build a sense of social closeness in my ERT classroom. This, actually nine minute, video briefly goes through the PAIR framework: Parallel, Authenticity, Intentionality, & Reflection, for supporting online engagement. Dr. Plott also suggests some easy-to-implement strategies like increasing font size, adding mentoring to your grading rubrics, and including pictures that reflect your values. 

If you’re feeling ready to go beyond those basic tips check out Dr. Jean Mandernach’s What Three Things Should I Do Each Week to Engage Online Students?. As the title suggests, she provides practical tips on providing personalized connection, meaningful interaction, and individual responses to your remote learners every week. While Dr. Mandernach emphasizes consistency for online teaching, keep in mind that you don’t need to feel committed to the patterns you established when you were rushed to get your class online. As long as you communicate clearly and motivate the changes, your learners will be understanding about implementing new patterns in your ERT classes. 

Lastly, if you find your online classroom being dominated by your presence rather than the voices of your learners, check out How Can I Build Engagement in my Online Classes through Student-created Videos? by Dr. Oliver Dreon. He discusses online classrooms as a community of inquiry and urges us to think of not just the teaching presence but to also consider the cognitive and social presences of our online classes. From using video-based discussions to having learners create Powtoon videos, Dr. Dreon’s video is full of tips and technology suggestions for bringing your learners’ voices into your virtual classroom. 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W.
(2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence,
and computer conferencing in distance
education. American Journal of distance
education, 15(1), 7-23.

These three videos have provided me with a plethora of ideas to help me combat the lonely feeling of staring at a grid of black boxes with names and little red microphones while I teach. While I urge you to check out these videos and not feel tied to the early, perhaps rash, decisions you made when quickly moving this term online I also urge you to be kind and lenient with yourself and your learners; we’re all trying our best in unprecedented conditions. 

Author Bio: Kelby Hahn (She/Her) is an OSU graduate in the College of Education. She is on staff at the OSU Center for Teaching & Learning and in the OSU & LBCC Physics Departments.

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