In a virtual or distance learning environment, social presence is essentially the feeling of being together. It can be quite challenging for both learners and instructors to project emotional and/or physical experiences in online learning, and this is a much-studied phenomenon. However, if we as instructors can consider this dimension of online learning in how we conduct our courses and interact with our students, we can help mitigate the stress and uncertainties of the sudden changeover to online delivery. Below are some tips to help improve social presence in our online courses.
This can be used to give feedback on an assignment or to simply check in with them from time to time. It allows instructors to increase social presence by speaking with emotion or in a conversational tone. Having that ‘face-to-face’ contact with a student can engage and encourage them, and even remind them that we are still there for them. Screencast-o-Matic is a good tool for this purpose.
Personal Profile Presence
Students can feel more connected to instructors and fellow students by learning something about each other. Encourage students to add a profile photo and add a biography about themselves. Ask students to write about what they like to do in their social life. Provide the same for your own profile.
Discussion Board Presence
If possible, set up a discussion board for your students. Discussions don’t have to relate to your course subject. These kinds of interactions encourage students to incorporate their feelings, experiences, opinions, and ideas into a variety of topics. Make sure you are also participating and encouraging contributions. Some ideas include the following:
- Post weekly discussion topics or thought-provoking questions for your students.
- Ask a trivia question related to a course concept.
- Post a link to a current event or article that relates to the course.
- Post unrelated ‘fun’ links.
- Create polls (Kahoot, Mentimeter).
Valuable Feedback Presence
Provide encouraging, frequent, and well-timed feedback. Everyone values timely feedback, but this is especially important in the virtual or distance learning environment to maintain the momentum of learning and engagement. This is a steep learning curve for many (instructors included), so keep feedback encouraging and positive so students can feel motivated that they CAN do this.
Take baby steps
This is likely new for the best of instructors. Even the most tech-savvy and ed-tech-informed instructors should not attempt to do too much at a time, especially at the start. Otherwise, learning new apps and gadgets will consume us and can take time away from providing instruction, guidance, and feedback to the student. Start slow with changes that feel manageable and comfortable for you, and then incrementally work towards changes.
Post written by Jennifer Allore, TESL Ontario Board Member