A Human League: Cultivating an Instructor Persona in the Digital Classroom

A few weeks ago, as I was preparing/researching for the New Faculty Institute, I came across IDEA PAPER 52 titled “Considerations in Online Course Design.”  It’s worth reading for the section labeled “Key differences between the traditional classroom and online teaching,” but what really struck me were the five tips for faculty to design a course to maximize student learning.

  1. Have students work collaboratively and actively
  2. Have students make connections between concepts
  3. Make student interaction with the instructor and your own “Social Presence” part of the course
  4. Balance the amount of information available and weekly assignments so students have time to digest
  5. Make sure your learning outcomes are appropriate to your technology options

Of course, what’s interesting is that these five tips are not just good design elements for an online environment: they are the elements of strong instruction in any modality– be it a Face-to-Face course (F2F), hybrid course, or stand-alone online.  As my boss says, “when we talk about eLearning, the focus should be on the learning– not on the e.”


However, Tip Number Three, student interaction with the instructor, can be markedly easier to achieve F2F (although the F2F modality definitely does not ensure this kind of connection– one of the critiques, I think, of using lecture as a primary pedagogical strategy).   And creating a “social presence,” an instructor persona, in an online space can be extraordinarily difficult– very much, I think, like the challenge of writing a novel, where you must sustain the development of a character.

If you are interested in exploring more about exploring this kind of connectivity in online spaces, here are two free professional development opportunities that may interest you:

The first is a webinar on October 9th with Michelle Pacansky-Brock.  “Humanizing Your Online Class” provides

  • examples of what students identify as valuable characteristics of a “humanized” online class
  • key tips and strategies for harnessing the potential of emergent technologies

This webinar is part of larger online professional development Micro-MOOC.  “Human Element: An Essential Online Course Component” starts October 21st and runs until November 24th.  This course will be delivered through the Canvas network (did you know Canvas supports MOOC’s?!  Did you know there was such a thing as a Micro-MOOC?!), so engaging with the materials, instructors, and participants not only will challenge you to integrate technologies like avatars, video, and social media to introduce your digital personality and enhance learners’ experiences, it may also  give you an idea of how you might create your own MOOC.

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