6 Ways to Enhance Presence During an Online Course

The world of education has seen a significant shift towards online learning, and educators are continually adapting to this digital landscape. Instructors must not only convey knowledge but also establish a strong online presence to engage and motivate students effectively. This challenge becomes even more critical in disciplines like public speaking, where communication is at the heart of the learning experience. Drawing from the insights of Beebe and Mottet (2009) and Morreale (2015), we present six strategies to enhance your presence during an online course.

6 Ways to Enhance Presence During an Online Course

1. Immediacy: Connect Through the Screen

Immediacy in online teaching is all about bridging the physical and psychological gap that exists between you and your students in the digital realm. It’s about creating a sense of closeness and engagement that goes beyond the screen. Here’s how you can achieve it:

Direct Eye Contact:

Imagine you’re addressing a room full of students. In a physical classroom, you’d make eye contact with individuals to engage them personally. The same principle applies in the digital world. When you speak during online sessions, look directly at the camera, which is essentially your students’ window into the virtual classroom. This simple action gives the impression that you’re addressing each student individually, creating a more personal and connected learning experience.

Courtesy: Sherwyn Morreale, Janice Thorpe, and Susan Ward

Use of First Names:

One of the most effective ways to establish a personal connection with your online students is by using their first names. Whenever you provide individual feedback, address each student by their first name. This small but powerful gesture makes students feel valued and recognized in the digital space. It adds a human touch to your interactions, showing that you’re genuinely interested in their progress and success.

2. Affinity-Seeking: Build Relationships Digitally

Creating a sense of affinity with your students is crucial for maintaining their engagement and motivation throughout the course. In an online environment, where written communication often dominates, building relationships may seem challenging, but it’s entirely achievable:

Warm and Engaging Tone:

In written communication, maintaining a warm and friendly tone is key to building affinity with your students. Just as you would in a face-to-face interaction, infuse your messages, emails, and course announcements with warmth and positivity. Avoid sounding overly formal or distant. Instead, aim for a conversational and approachable tone that fosters a sense of connection. Students should feel comfortable reaching out to you with questions or concerns, knowing that you’re approachable and empathetic.

Mirror In-Seat Behaviors:

During synchronous interactions, such as video conferencing sessions or virtual office hours, replicate the behaviors exhibited in a physical classroom. Maintain facial expressions, use a warm and welcoming tone of voice, and make eye contact through the camera. By mirroring the behaviors students would experience in an in-seat course, you create a familiar and comfortable atmosphere that encourages active participation and engagement.

3. Relational Power: Be Assertive and Confident

Relational power refers to your ability to influence students, whether based on your role as the instructor or their trust and liking for you. In an online course, your ability to assertively and confidently communicate course expectations and requirements can significantly impact your relational power:

Clear Communication:

Clearly and assertively communicate your course’s expectations and requirements, both verbally and in writing. Avoid ambiguity in your instructions and announcements. When students know exactly what is expected of them, it reduces uncertainty and anxiety, making them more likely to engage actively in the course. Use confident language when discussing assignments, deadlines, and grading criteria. Confidence in your communication instills trust and respect among students.

Feedback Enhancement:

When providing feedback on speech performances or assignments, be constructive and encouraging. Focus on helping students improve rather than just pointing out mistakes. Use language that empowers students to take action and excel. This approach not only strengthens your relational power but also fosters a supportive and growth-oriented learning environment. Encourage students to reach out for clarification or additional guidance, reinforcing your commitment to their success.

4. Credibility: Show Your Expertise

Credibility is a fundamental aspect of online teaching. Students must perceive you as knowledgeable, fair, and trustworthy. Here’s how you can enhance your credibility:

Demonstrate Expertise:

One of the most effective ways to establish credibility in the eyes of your students is to demonstrate your deep knowledge of the course content. You should be well-prepared and able to answer questions confidently. Provide additional resources or references to enrich students’ understanding of the subject matter. Share your expertise through engaging discussions, insightful lectures, and well-researched course materials. When students see that you have a thorough understanding of the content, they are more likely to trust your guidance and expertise.

Fairness Matters:

Fairness in grading and decision-making is crucial for building and maintaining credibility. Ensure that your grading criteria are transparent and consistently applied to all students. Make decisions that are in the best interest of all students equally, without bias or favoritism. Communicate your expectations clearly, and be open to feedback and discussion. Demonstrating fairness in your interactions and assessments reinforces your credibility as an instructor who prioritizes student success and fairness.

5. Clarity: Communicate Clearly in the Digital Realm

Effective communication in online courses demands clarity. Students should easily understand your instructions, course materials, and feedback. Consider the following:

Clear Speech:

In the online environment, where communication relies heavily on audio and video, it’s essential to speak clearly and at a pace that is easily comprehensible. Ensure that you enunciate words and phrases distinctly, especially when presenting critical information. Avoid speaking too fast or using complex language that may confuse students. Clarity in your speech enhances students’ ability to grasp the content and instructions, reducing the likelihood of misinterpretation or confusion.

Precise Written Instructions:

Written instructions play a significant role in online courses. When providing instructions for assignments, projects, or course activities, be precise and explicit. Avoid ambiguity or vague language that could lead to misunderstandings. Use commonly understood vocabulary, and structure your instructions logically. It’s also beneficial to include examples or templates when appropriate. Clear written instructions empower students to navigate the course effectively and independently, resulting in a more efficient and enjoyable learning experience.

6. Humor: Use Wisely for Engagement

Humor can be a valuable tool in online teaching, as it can enhance engagement and create a positive learning atmosphere. However, it must be used judiciously and never offensively. Here’s how to incorporate humor effectively:

Spontaneous Engagement:

During online interactions, such as video lectures or virtual discussions, use humor spontaneously to lighten the atmosphere and engage students. Share relevant anecdotes, humorous examples related to the course material, or witty remarks. Humor can help break the ice, reduce tension, and make the learning experience more enjoyable. It can also demonstrate your approachability and create a sense of camaraderie among students.

Written Communication:

In written announcements, emails, or course messages, inject a touch of humor when appropriate. Keep it light-hearted and positive, avoiding any form of offense. A well-placed humorous comment or anecdote in your written communication can make the online learning experience more enjoyable and memorable for students. However, always consider the context and audience to ensure that your humor is inclusive and respectful.

Last Words

In conclusion, enhancing your presence during an online course is essential for creating an engaging and effective learning environment, especially in disciplines like public speaking. By applying these six strategies, drawn from the core components of instructional competence, you can establish a strong online presence, foster connections with your students, and empower them to succeed in the digital realm. Remember, teaching online may be different, but the impact you make can be just as profound as in a physical classroom.

So, embrace the digital challenge, communicate with clarity, and add a sprinkle of humor. Your students will appreciate your effort, and together, you can make online learning an enriching experience.

Reference: Beebe, S. A., & Mottet, T. P. (2009). Core Components of Instructional Competence. In Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication (pp. 247-262). Sage Publications, Inc.

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