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A common misconception about online courses is that they must be impersonal when compared to F2F (face-to-face) learning.  But in F2F, teaching presence, or the professor’s presence as a teacher, mentor, and ally, does not develop automatically and must be cultivated. So, too, in online courses and many seasoned online faculty have developed ways to promote “teaching presence” in the online course spaces. Here’s a few tips:

  1. If you use asynchronous discussions, participate in them to set examples of good contributions, point out good student posts, prompt students to expand on vague or incomplete comments, and offer insights from your experience. 
  2. Look for ways to provide quality, actionable feedback on student work.  If you aren’t spending time in scheduled classroom sessions, why not spend a few extra minutes commenting on their writing or other work?  
  3. Record lecture segments as audio clips. Hearing your voice can help your students engage with you instead of just with the content.  Decades of radio, and now podcasts, have demonstrated that audio can convey charisma. Enthusiasm is more important than professional delivery or production quality.
  4. Record video screencasts.  If you have slides, or need to demonstrate something, video is a good option.  Again, they hear your voice and enthusiasm.
  5. Webcam video. With all the above options, it isn’t necessary to record webcam videos.  It’s just another option, and lectures might more efficiently be done using screencasting.  But short messages, where students see your face as well as hear your voice, can be a way to establish teaching presence.  These can be just a few minutes long, where you just discuss procedures or reminders. And they needn’t be professional productions, either.  
  6. Here, we list things like Zoom or other web conferencing last because like webcam video, it isn’t necessary to have synchronous classes in order to keep students engaged.  Compelling students to “come to class” at a certain date and time on the web might even be off-putting, depending on circumstances. But you can offer optional meetings, office hours, or other live conversation opportunities to students. 

With the above strategies – and others suggested by colleagues in your discipline – you can ensure that students know you as the course professor, instead of just a course caretaker. And while audio and video technologies can help, simpler text-based tools like chat, discussion boards, and writing assignments can offer opportunities to develop lasting learning relationships as well.