Enhance Instructor Presence in Online Courses

Learner using mobile device for learning
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Evidence-Based Practices for Excellence in Online Teaching

In the online course environment, content matters. But just as important as the content is the user experience in the course. If students are not comfortable with the technology… if they’re not engaged with their instructor, other learners, and the content… and if they are not excited or inspired by the activities in the course, what will keep them coming back to learn?

Research suggests that learners who are more engaged with the instructor, their learning peers, and with the content in an online class are more likely to succeed in that course. (D’Agostino, 2016). We’ve come up with a few easy to incorporate strategies that will help make your online course more engaging for your learners!

Instructor Presence

Students sometimes feel isolated and alone in an online course, and in survey data some have expressed that they felt their instructor was not really there for them. In other words, they did not feel a sense of instructor presence in the course. But you can give your students the sense of instructor presence by communicating with them regularly. Email them individually and as a class. Provide announcements with information that is relevant to the course, but also about events that are happening on campus. Let them know about community activities and events that are relevant to the course, or that they might find interesting. Jump in to the discussion forum threads and communicate with your students there! Provide regular individualised feedback to learners on assignments.

Videos (and Other Media!)

Including a welcome video in your online course is a great way to start to develop a sense of instructor presence in your online course, and it’s a requirement for Odessa College instructors. Videos allow online learners to get a sense of their instructor. They can put a face with a name, and hear the instructor’s voice. Both of these help to humanise the instructor for the students. We recommend that you keep the video short (less than five minutes), and introduce yourself. Talk about how to find things in the course, and your expectations.

Short weekly videos can keep the sense of instructor presence alive through the term are strongly encouraged. You can create lecture/screen capture videos using TechSmith Relay, which creates videos that can easily be added to your Blackboard course. Incorporate animated characters with Voki.com, Adobe Animate, or other animation tools to provide some variety.

You can also include audio files in your announcements, in instructional feedback through Blackboard’s Inline Grader, and throughout your course.

Help me! 

Students can learn a great deal from each other and providing a discussion forum or wiki where your learners can ask questions of each other is a great strategy for increasing learner interaction. In addition to being able to ask questions, you will see natural leadership emerging, and your learners will develop confidence as they provide answers to questions posed by their peers. Since your course has more learners than instructors, you will usually find that your students respond to their peers rather quickly!


Weekly announcements can let your learners know about upcoming deadlines and activities, and also about things that are going on around campus and in the community. And of course, they can be another way for you to ensure that you have a presence in the course. In Blackboard, announcements can be set to email to students, so they will see the announcement when they enter the course, but they can also receive it as an email from the instructor. Too many announcements can be overwhelming, though! Blackboard allows instructors to use date restriction so that students are not inundated with too many announcements… and so that the announcements open and close as appropriate.

To-Do Lists or / Checklists

Providing a weekly list of activities can keep students organized and on track. You can include activities for the week, such as

  • readings, videos, and other course content expectations,
  • discussion forums, blogs, and journals,
  • assignments,
  • any tests, quizzes, or exams that are scheduled for that week,
  • projects that are upcoming, including scaffolding activities, etc.

Detailed Instructions

Provide details in all instructions, especially with regard to your expectations. Make sure assignment instructions are clear and detailed, as the learners do not have the opportunity to ask questions in class. Rubrics for assignments can help to clarify your expectations for your learners! Post reminders that students can pose questions to their peers (and the instructor) in the student discussion forum (see “Help Me!” section above!)

Low-Stakes Assignments

Providing opportunities for students to practice their skills prior to a high-stakes project or assignment can be critical, and can remove some of the stress the learners feel with big projects. Assigning a series of low-stakes assignments that lead up to the project can help with scaffolding, and provide opportunities for the instructor to provide feedback along the way. These can also give the students the opportunity to better understand instructor expectations. For example, an instructor might break down an essay into sections, having learners submit an outline, then their introduction paragraph, and so on. The instructor can provide feedback on the lower-stakes submissions, allowing the learner to develop a better understanding of the concepts, and an opportunity to retain more information on the subject. (Just remember that if you use SafeAssign, do not include assignments that lead to a final project in the Global Database.) For students with test anxiety, the instructor might provide a sample test that can work as a self-assessment for the learners. These can be graded or used as participation grades, but can be a good way for learners to meet course outcomes.

Regular feedback

Feedback along the way is critical for all students, but may be more critical for students in the online environment. And most of our faculty are great at providing nice targeted feedback to help the students develop and improve their skills. But do you tell your students how to access that feedback? Make sure that you provide instructions to your learners on how to find this!

In addition to providing general and targeted feedback through the Grade Center, instructors can also interact and leave some feedback on discussions, blogs, and even journals in the form of comments. Feedback really helps learners to understand faculty expectations.

Video/Audio Feedback

Blackboard Inline Grading allows instructors to leave video and audio feedback! If you have a microphone and or webcam attached to your computer or device, here’s how you can do that:

  • View the student’s attempt through the Inline Grader
  • In the feedback box, click the big bold A to access a text editor (see the image below
Select the bold "A" button to access the text editor
Blackboard’s Inline Grade Center – Feedback
  • In the Feedback to Learner text editing window select the microphone icon from the lower left side of the toolbar (see image below)

This adds a deeper layer of instructor presence to your courses! Just make sure that your learners know how to access their feedback!


Providing students the opportunity to work together in a class not only helps them feel connected to the course, the classmates, and the instructor, but it also helps them to develop collaboration skills and strategies for learning and working in a digital world. Faculty should not assume that students will know how to do this right away. Help your learners prepare and plan by providing some guidelines and best practice tips. Of course, working in groups can get messy (and sometimes frustrating), so be patient and responsive to their concerns.

Live Sessions

Providing opportunities to meet with the instructor and with other students can increase student engagement. Using Blackboard Collaborate, students can meet with faculty during student support hours, participate in group activities, or make presentations to the class. Blackboard Collaborate allows instructors to send an email link to participants that are not in the course, so this is a great opportunity to have guest speakers provide information to the students. Keep in mind that students may be anywhere in the world, so be sure to specify time zone in your planning.

Live sessions can be recorded so those learners who are unable to participate can view them later.

Meet and Greet

Some students enjoy the opportunity to meet each other in social discussion threads. Consider setting up a discussion thread with a name like cafe, campfire, water cooler or lounge. Or give students a fun prompt that allows them to introduce themselves and share interests.

Some ideas for icebreaker discussion forums include:

  • What song (film, image, cartoon) represents you and why? – ask your students to find a/n song (or film, image, cartoon) that they feel is representative of them and identify why.
  • Two Truths and a Lie – ask your students to list two truthful things about themselves and one thing that is a lie. Peers respond, trying to guess which is the lie.
  • Sell Yourself – ask your students to identify their strengths
  • Favourite Foods / Disliked Foods
  • Describe yourself in only 5 words
  • Twitter Intros (limited character count)
  • Use FlipGrid or similar tool to incorporate video into the discussion forum. Students can have the opportunity to see and hear each other… and it’s fun!

Course Accessibility

Students with a variety of abilities will enroll in online classes, just as they do in face-to-face courses. In addition to wanting all students to have access to course materials and activities, Section 508 of the American with Disabilities Act requires us to do so. Blackboard Ally is a tool designed to evaluate and improve the accessibility of courses. Ally provides easy-to-follow instructions for correcting items within your course that may not be accessible to all users.

If you’d like to know more about making your course more accessible, Clilck Here for More!

To have Ally turned on for your courses, contact OC Global (ocglobal@odessa.edu).

Due Dates

Because many online students work or have other obligations, consider setting due dates at times that reduce anxiety for students. Late in the evening, perhaps 11:59 p.m., and on the weekend allows online students a bit of flexibility for completing their work.

Consider asking the students what works for them with regard to setting due dates. A simple survey in the first week of class would allow you to set due dates that meet the needs of the majority of your learners… and will help the students to feel that their voice matters. This really helps with user engagement!

Outside events and activities

There’s always something going on at Odessa College! Asking students to participate in an outside event or activity can be a valuable addition to a course. However, faculty should keep in mind that Odessa College students in online courses may be located anywhere the world. Online students should not be required to come to campus or community events. Be sure to remind students of the Drive To Success program! And don’t forget that you can award points to students in your Grade Center.

Sound Design, Engaging Experiences, Intentional Use of Technology

Please schedule an appointment with the Instructional Design/Educational Technology Team in OC Global for assistance in developing high quality, engaging online courses. You can reach us by emailing ocglobal@odessa.edu or you can email us individually!


D’Agustino, S. (2016). Creating teacher immediacy in online learning environments. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Ladyshewsky, Richard. 2013. Instructor Presence in Online Courses and Student Satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 7 (1): pp. 1-23. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/ij-sotl/vol7/iss1/13/

Pexels. (N.D.) Kindle ereader tablet [Photo]. Retrieved from Pixabay.