Online teaching presence – facilitation and direction

If you are using Teams to run an online alternative to a face-to-face session, you are probably going to have to explore new ways of encouraging students to interact with you or each other, or to work together in collaboration.

The exception might be small-group seminars (up to c6 participants), which can run in a similar way to a meeting, as long as everyone has a camera and a microphone, as you can easily take turns to speak, and everyone can take it in turn to share documents such as readings with the group. This might work well for assessment preparation sessions where students working on similar topics can work either with you or in a group on their own.

If this interaction is moving to text-based online environment, developing a new online teaching presence for yourself is key to ensuring student engagement and learning. There is a huge amount of research into teaching presence, and much of it focusses on instructional and learning design – that is, the ‘nuts and bolts’ of putting together an online environment that centres on student learning. The focus here is on two other interrelated aspects of teacher presence:

  • Facilitation
  • Direction and leadership

As you consider more online activities for your students, this will inevitably involve considering how to support students learning in a personal way, that emulates the guidance and extra knowledge that you bring into group and seminar work.

Facilitation involves smoothing the path for discussion between students, by encouraging student contributions, seeking out students who are not participating and nurturing students’ social presence by encouraging personal feedback and interaction. This is about keeping students focussed on the task, and helping them to move towards consensus and understanding.

Direction and leadership involves creating the structure for discussion and collaboration, setting the problems and questions, interjecting with further information, keeping discussions focussed, and summarising findings.

This involves a similar set of skills than undertaking these activities face to face, however:

  • You need to be more explicit in your instructions in an online environment, for example in sharing information about the ‘why’ ‘what’ and ‘how’ of student contributions to discussion boards or blog posts.
  • Post some examples yourself to set the tone for the quantity and quality of what you are hoping for.
  • The time delay in asynchronous learning means that some techniques that you use in face-to-face sessions, such as answering a question with a further question to help students to arrive at the answer themselves, don’t work so well online.
  • Find the right tone in responding to blog posts and discussion board posts.

This final point is particularly important. Remember that students are most used to producing materials for you to look at, or receiving text-based feedback from you for their formative and summative assessments. The idea of sharing ideas and content with you in this way may get confused with submitting assignments, and the anxieties that this can create. This is particularly the case because  the online tools that you are using can also be used for assessment. You will need to find ways to reassure students (be explicit about the purpose of the activity, keep the tone informal) that this is not an assessment, but more similar to them contributing in class.

NEXT STEP – Using discussion boards >>>

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