Having worked as an adjunct instructor [part-time faculty member] since the late 90s I’ve noticed and have heard of many instructors that seem to disappear while teaching their online course. I’ve always found this to be a little upsetting since this is the number one thing that we must do when teaching an online course.
Of course there are varying degrees of faculty engagement. On the one hand there is the instructor that provides no communication, no feedback, and no encouragement to students. On the other hand is the instructor who provides feedback that is not constructive or provides feedback…but it’s too late for students to use to improve the assignments that follow.
Here are a few things that can be done to help remain present in your online course and be available to students:
- Dedicate certain times to go to class – I’ve always suggested to my own students that they dedicate certain times of the day to attend an online course. As instructors we should do the same. This dedicated time can be used to grade, respond to emails and provide general announcements that will help keep students focused.
- Personalize the course by being present – when working with new faculty I always suggest that they include a welcome video at the beginning of the course as well as the beginning of each lesson, module or unit. And when needed I recommend that new faculty create an assignment-specific video for those assignments that may trip students up or include detailed directions. Taking this approach not only helps to engage the students and personalize the content but it also helps the faculty to feel more vested in their course.
- Be creative when engaging students – learning to teach online is not something we can learn overnight. Some faculty that I have worked with will write personalized emails to a few students every week with some positive information about the tasks performed during the previous week. Another faculty person that I’ve met along the way uses screencasting to review and provide feedback for writing assignments. They can quickly share that message with students via link to the video. This is all done in an effort to make the students feel that you are present and interested in their success.
- Use discussion boards – using discussion boards often is a wise move for all faculty. This helps keep the course on point so this can quickly hear off on a tangent and steer away from the content. This also lets students know that you’re interested and care about what they’re saying, as they will be looking forward to your responses. Responses can be praise, critiques or just simply calling for more critical thinking.
- Online does not mean off-line – because the content assignments and assessments are all done online this does not mean that faculty should not be available and off-line. Students will not be successful if the faculty are not involved with the learning experience and provide the depth, breadth and overall richness of a valuable learning experience. All faculty should be available for scheduled office hours at least once a week when students can reach out via phone or video chat session.