Building and Maintaining An Online Teaching Presence

by / Thursday, 29 October 2020 / Published in Teaching with Technology

As teachers begin to feel more comfortable working in an online learning environment in terms of tools, logistics and management, there are still a few sticking points that challenge along the way. One of the more pressing is the lack of connection with students. It may be true the rapport and familiarity of the face-to-face classroom may never be fully replicated online, but there are steps you can take to create deeper connections; most of those have to do with building and maintaining an online teaching presence.

Many of us feel that our online teaching presence has to do with our voice and face being heard and seen during a live, synchronous class, and while that is certainly part of the puzzle, the reality is that there is so much more. From the designing and developing our courses, to facilitating even when students are not immediately present, to creating and maintaining communication channels – it all contributes to the online presence that is so vital in creating connections with our learners.


The first steps in creating a presence start with the designing and developing of our courses. Students who find their courses designed in an organized and easily navigable way will be more likely to return often, which will help them feel more connected. Take the opportunity while creating your learning modules to let students know what the objectives are, what tasks they might be doing and the ways in which you’ll be providing feedback and assessment. Instructional videos that explain course navigation, tools and expectations always reinforce, and when those videos include your voice and or face, it contributes to making those connections.


Another important step is facilitating even when students are not immediately present, and this can cover a lot of ground. Part of having an online presence is realizing that being an online teacher doesn’t mean creating a course and leaving it at that. Just as you would continuously provide resources for students in a face-to-face environment, you can continue to do so in your online class. Curating support materials, highlighting important important topics and discussions throughout the course, participating in online discussions by acknowledging your learners’ contributions, by giving feedback and by asking engaging questions are all ways that you can facilitate connections in your course.


Finally there are steps that fall under the creating and maintaining open, accessible communication channels that will let your students know you’re ‘there’, even when you’re not. Providing opportunities for them to ask you questions and reach out to you during your online synchronous class is a great way to build an immediate connection, but students need to know you’re not just a face they see or a voice they hear a few times a week. Making sure your contact information and online ‘office hours’ are available in the course lets students know they can reach you outside of synchronous class time. Using your LMS tools such as email and announcements for reminders and other important information lets students know you are keeping them in the loop. Finally, offering a less formal mode of communication – think social media – can let students know you’re approachable and not everything has to be a serious, especially if you engage them on the platform occasionally in a lighthearted way.


It’s important to remember that connecting is a two-way street. For many students, in fact probably most, studying online full time or much of the time is a new experience. We want them to connect with us and be present in our online synchronous classes, and one of the best ways to get them to do that is to ensure they know we are always there, not just there some of the time.