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Connection and clarity: how do we enhance teaching presence in online units?

Can studying online be an ideal learning experience? Macquarie graduate and staff member Lara Hardy looks at what teaching staff can do to help students feel connected.

Having studied as an undergraduate and postgraduate student on campus, by distance, and as an internal student taking some external units (whilst also undertaking prac), it is always interesting to compare different modes of study and teaching strategies and to ask, how do students learn best? Can they achieve their ideal learning experiences studying online?

Tablet computer - image Creative Commons by Derek K Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/penmachine/Two of the key elements for motivational learning from my experience were connection and clarity – it didn’t seem to matter whether I was attending classes or studying from a library via my laptop or iPad – all that made the difference was whether I felt a lecturer was aware of me as an individual as well as the cohort as a whole, the extent to which my fellow students were interested in sharing and debating ideas, and whether the online materials were clear to follow, in order for me to easily go back and forth between study and work.

Research has long shown the benefit of immediacy in fostering positive student attitudes to both course material and the teacher; by bridging “transactional distance” (Moore, 2006), students experience increased satisfaction and engagement.

So how can we create more of an authentic connection for students studying online? Lecture tools such as Blackboard Collaborate™ are already being used at Macquarie to enable students attending lectures outside of campus to feel more connected to their peers and the lecturer via a chat facility.

One assessment task in an Education unit I undertook at Macquarie (TEP248 Inclusive Education) required me to post online and also respond to a group of other external students via the discussion forum, prior to our on-campus sessions. These sessions became much more productive and ideas flowed freely, not only because we understood the subject better through active discussion and debate, but also because we felt much more connected as a group face-to-face, as a connection had already been created online.

EDUC258 Introduction Video
EDUC258 Introduction Video on iLearn

Academics who have worked on their online units through Faculty Partnership Projects (such as Dr Michael Cavanagh and A/Prof Joanne Mulligan’s EDUC258 Mathematics in Schools) have created connection for external students by ensuring that they have a dedicated “space” in iLearn with welcome messages prior to on-campus sessions, and have enhanced clarity for this student cohort through the production of tailored content (such as short podcasts).

Teacher presence in online courses may be enhanced by the use of extensive rich media materials in order to provide more immediacy through increased interaction. How many other ways may technology be used to further enhance the experiences of students studying online?

This post was written by Lara Hardy (BA LLB (Hons), GDipLegalPractice, GCertCareersEduc&Dev, GradDipEd), Centre for Open Education, Off-campus Programs.  Lara acknowledges the contribution of Dr Alison Kuiper, Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Sydney.

3 thoughts on “Connection and clarity: how do we enhance teaching presence in online units?”

    1. Hey Keiran, nice link. I worked on an FPP with Dr. Melanie Bishop earlier this year where we created little teacher avatars using Bitstrips and colour coding certain things within a unit to help students navigate the content. I recently presented about this at #mqltweek. Here is a link to the presentation if you want more info on what we did.

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