Hello? Is anybody out there? Creating a Sense of Presence

Hello? …Is anybody out there?

Computer Problems, by CollegeDegrees360
Computer Problems, by CollegeDegrees360 Licensed for Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Think about some online course experiences you’ve had as a learner/participant. Have you ever had one in which you did not have opportunity to interact with the instructor… or other students… or even content? I have. And as a student, that can be pretty frustrating.

According to his 2014 blog post on Faculty Focus, Rob Kelly describes the feeling of isolation students can experience when a course is not designed to provide that sense of presence. Imagine a novice students in an environment where they don’t know where to go or what to do. The instructor has not provided any instruction, and the student may already be afraid of the technology. That student might be left wondering:

  • “What should I be doing?”
  • “Where is my instructor?”
  • “Where is ANYBODY?”
  • “What did I click on? What SHOULD I click on?”
  • “I must’ve done something wrong… What did I do to get here?”

Establishing a sense of presence in the online environment is critical to helping your students feel connected. Sense of Presence offers students the feeling of being there in the classroom, and being together with other learners.

But how do you do that as an instructor? Kelly (2014) suggests being very intentional in the design of the course, and including a video or narrative description introducing yourself as the instructor. As the course goes on, he adds that students need “evidence of engagement.” This can be announcements or discussion board posts, for example, or content that is uploaded weekly. The student needs some level of interaction with the instructor, and with learning materials. Kelly adds that the use of a low-stakes survey or feedback form can be useful at some point during the course, to gauge student attitudes toward the course, the content, and the instructor. This type of feedback, of course, should be used by the instructor for continuous improvement. If the feedback indicates that things are not going optimally, the instructor can make critical changes before it’s too late for the learners to be successful and to have a positive experience in the course.

In the blog post, Establishing an Online Teaching Presence (Duquesne University), more focus is placed on the intentional design of the course. By ensuring that intentionality is used when considering expected outcomes and in determining the assessment strategies and learning experiences, the instructor can build a course that more effectively demonstrates the concept of “direct instruction,” where the instructor contributes to the course and the course content regularly, which allows the learner to experience the expertise the instructor has with the subject matter.

The following tips will  help you to get started creating a sense of instructor presence in your courses:

  • Providing students easy to follow navigation instructions so that they know what to click on and how to get started helps them to feel more comfortable and confident inside the course. This can be a video, an audio file, or written instructions, but for an online course, a navigation video will help to humanize the experience for your learners.
  • Easy to find information about the instructor (your “Faculty Information” link from the navigation panel) can provide students with phone numbers and email addresses for their instructor, but also can provide a brief bio of the instructor to help them get a sense of their instructor’s personality, an overview of what they can expect from their instructor, and perhaps even a picture or video so that the learners can put a face (and voice!) with the name. All of this information help the learners to see that their instructor is a living, breathing person, and that they have someone with whom they can connect.
  • Providing a welcome announcement and a welcome video/audio file is another way to help students feel more comfortable when they’re getting started. You might consider creating a video that combines your course welcome/introduction with navigation instructions. But also sending an email to the students before the class begins can help to start establishing that sense of presence even before the course opens.
  • Use discussion forums, blogs, and journals as a way to engage with your learners. In discussion forums, respond to student posts with meaningful feedback, different views, or other things they might consider. In blogs, use comments as a way to share insight and feedback. And with journals, use this a tool for one-on-one communication between instructor and learner.
  • Detailed grade feedback helps your students develop a sense that the instructor is there… and that the instructor cares. Be sure that your students know how to access their feedback! You’d be surprised how many students do not know that grading feedback is provided for them!

These suggestions are just a few tips to help you get started with ensuring that you are engaging with your learners, and are not intended to be a prescriptive list. There are many ways that you can let your learners know that you are present in their online courses, and that you are there to support their learning needs.


CollegeDegrees360. (2012). Computer Problems [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/ 6-August-2018. Licensed for Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Duquesne University. Center for Teaching Excellence. (n.d.) Establishing an Online Teaching Presence. Retrieved from https://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-and-learning/establishing-an-online-teaching-presence 6-August-2018.

Kelly, Rob. (2014). Creating a Sense of Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom. Faculty Focus, 7-January-2014. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/creating-a-sense-of-instructor-presence-in-the-online-classroom/ 6-August-2018.