Learning online can be a lonely experience. Students can miss the social aspects of studying and the in-person experience, so the role of the teacher becomes important to help students overcome barriers to learning, facilitate effective learning, increase retention and improve success rates.
Students like to see a real person, even if it is just doing a voiceover to a PowerPoint presentation in the corner of the screen. Knowing there is an actual human being who cares about their learning can personalise the experience, reduce feelings of isolation and encourage contact. It gives a greater sense of teacher presence and caring when instructors use interactive technologies consistently and purposefully. There is a higher level of engagement when teachers incorporate live audio and video chats or video-capture lectures using web conferencing software such as Collaborate. Students also get a sense of teacher caring when their instructors post frequently in chat rooms, invite student questions and respond quickly to those questions.
To facilitate this, academics need to develop the skills to make the best use of collaborative technologies and the enhancements they can bring to conventional teaching methods. Teachers can use these interactive technologies to create a robust presence and help students cope with challenging teaching materials and concepts.
Use the technologies to help students learn
How can instructors create a presence in the virtual space that effectively supports student learning? Through a combination of audio lectures, forums and chat sessions, practice problems and synchronous discussion, teachers can create a supportive learning environment. Students should never feel that they “have to teach themselves” when learning remotely. Some subjects can be difficult to teach online but creating a safe and supportive environment encourages student understanding of even the most complicated topics.
Lectures and presentations
Instead of simply posting lecture notes, one can post a video of lectures accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation with voiceover. The narrated slides can allow for a thorough demonstration and explication of concepts and improve the instructor’s ability to proactively address content-related questions. Students may find that the narrated slides personalise the course experience for them and create a sense of connection with the instructor.
Within narrated PowerPoint presentations, teachers can provide sample problems and use simple applications such as MS Paint to give step-by-step demonstrations of how to format solutions to problems. These types of demonstrations can be effective in helping students to grasp the material and increase their understanding. These presentations can take a considerable amount of time for the instructor to create, but once completed can be used multiple times.
Meeting learning outcomes
To improve students’ performance and continuity in their courses, research suggests that online teachers should focus on providing targeted support for students to reach educational goals. Establishing a meaningful teacher presence through the effective use of interactive technologies seems to be a powerful strategy for enhancing student outcomes.
As you create your online courses, the following observations should be considered:
- Students perceive instructors as responsive when they encourage student questions through different avenues and reply to questions promptly.
- Instructors can establish a sense of purpose by integrating interactive technology into regular course activities and by clearly telling students when and how to use a technology-based resource.
- Infusing audio and video throughout lectures provide multiple ways for students to engage with content and creates a strong instructor presence.
- Live chat sessions allow for personalised instruction and give students the opportunity to get to know their instructor. A flexible schedule of chat sessions can be established, possibly requiring students to attend at least a minimum number.
- Giving students a clear purpose for discussion board postings helps to stimulate more meaningful interaction and increase student participation.
- Teachers should maintain an ongoing presence on discussion boards to encourage student participation and the sense that they are being listened to.
- Students expect and appreciate detailed instructions for assignments and clear, actionable feedback in addition to overall marks.
- Teachers can improve their online courses and engender a sense of caring by asking for student feedback about the course and using that feedback to enhance it.