Ways to build presence in online courses

I heard a horror story the other day from a dear friend of mine who was taking an online course.  She reported to me that the professor offered no grades on the written assignments until the end of the course, and gave no feedback at all for any written assignments.  When she went to the college dean to see if this was going to be the standard amount of interaction for an online course, the dean said, basically, “It varies. The Professor had e-mail problems. You should do your homework to find a better professor next time.”  I was disgusted by this.  I work my butt off to try to get to know my students and to give them useful feedback on their work. For me, that is more important than being on the discussion boards.  That is the one to one supervision that my students get from me.  I just don’t think neglecting your students is acceptable in any format.

This kind of stuff gives online learning a bad reputation.  Both learners and academics are very skeptical of this form of teaching (although honestly, if more professors were actually trained in any sort of pedagogy, they might not even ask the initial question).  People actually believe that online courses are entirely computer run.  To combat this perception, online professors need to work a little harder at demonstrating our humanity, and building connection with our students.  This is not as difficult as it sounds.  Yes, you need to be present in your classes, but you also need to have a personality.  Work on your writing style, be funny, be human. Let your students know a bit about who you are.  It’s much easier for F2F profs to perform and entertain, which really helps to establish a student following and also builds classroom success.  We can do it too, we just need to work at it. When students and colleagues see that there are real people teaching online courses,  they will be harder to dismiss.  The statistics about the efficacy of online teaching already support this, we need better marketing.

As a final word, teaching this way is not for everyone. If you don’t want to, don’t know how and can’t balance it with face to face teaching, don’t do it.  You will quickly realize that online courses don’t run themselves, and no one will be happy with the results.

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Online Educational Specialist