Engage Your Students

Teacher presence ranks in the top five of student concerns in online courses! Need proof? Review this information in these links:

Online courses are not intended to be like an old-style correspondence course! Online is more of a high-priority, long-distance coaching relationship.

Classroom Instructors are used to having different tools to connect with their students and communicate clearly: body language, tone, humanity, humor, authenticity, accessibility clarity relationship building, style, handouts, projectors, and other students. Online courses require different creative strategies, yet they may be equally effective or even better than classrooms when designed well and taught with engagement and enthusiasm. 

Online Course formats reveal communication problems and student engagement issues which may also exist undetected in classrooms. Instructors may believe their teaching style and classroom presence is successful when students struggle to find value in the experience.  


Teacher Presence Strategies

  • Place your teacher photo on the course homepage to create recognition and connection.
  • Welcoming video (1 minute): Keep it personal. Help students see you!  Focus on your teaching philosophy statement, why you teach, how you got interested in the subject, or hobbies/interests. This video is to introduce the Teacher, not the Course. Use Course documents or additional short videos for that.
  • Participate in the “Introduce Yourself” discussion. 
  • Discussions: Comment on discussions intermittently. Do not predictably comment on every discussion, or remain completely absent. (Intermittent reinforcement works better.)
  • Grading feedback tools: Give individual feedback comments on major assignments. Do not just grade. Tools can be rubrics, comments, audio, video or annotations in SpeedGrader.
  • Announcements: Place a weekly Announcement and train students to check for communication changes daily. 
  • Post virtual Office Hours, or by appointment.
  • State your communication plan to clarify expectations. Examples: I do not answer questions on the weekend. All assignments are due Friday night by Midnight. Or I strive to answer all messages within 48 hours. Describe what you actually plan to do. 
  • Be responsive to student questions: short and targeted. 
  • Be there: Log into the course daily. Make a point to interact in some way each time you log in, even if it is a single email or comment.
  • If your course is equivalent to a 3 credit-hour class, plan to be available and responsive at least that equivalent time. 
  • Student Support Module: Provide written steps for students to prepare their computers, troubleshoot, and seek assistance in times when you are not available. 
  • Netiquette: Post clear netiquette, etiquette and discussion communication guidelines. Observe discussions and peer reviews to make sure they are followed. 
  • Clarity: Keep the Syllabus short and sweet. 1-2 pages.
    • Include overview-level descriptions, and unpack details in assignments where they will be used.  State your communication plans, course patterns, and expectations clearly.
  • Recorded conferences or short lessons using Short Video Best Practices. (3-7 minutes, captioned, well-paced)


Additional Student Engagement Strategies 

  • Keep the course navigation predictable and organized. The risk is greater for students to become lost than to be bored.
  • Organization: Design course navigation and modules with the student user experience in mind, rather than your own habits and conveniences.  When making a design decision, ask yourself,  “How does this help the student?"
    • Students in your course need to know: "Where am I? What am I doing? When? How do I know when I am done?"
    • Modules: Build due dates, scheduling and pacing assistance into the module contents.
    • Maximize technology delivery with just-in-time details: Include assignment descriptions, rubrics, and due dates within the actual assignments.
    • Avoid the “scavenger hunt” method of course organization: Do not force students to do a scavenger hunt to connect your schedule to the name of a document and then an assignment!
  • Use detailed rubrics. Introduce students to the concept and train them to utilize rubrics.
  • Use low-value assignment at the beginning of a course to establish student comfort with Announcements, preferred email, customizing notification settings, and posting a student photo or avatar.
    • Respond individually to each student’s introductory assignment email. Sign your name the way you prefer to be called, ie. Linda, Ms. Jones, or Professor Jones. (Students struggle to decide how to address their teachers politely. This wastes time & patience.)
    •  Discussions: Begin with an “Introduce Yourself” Discussion. Oftentimes students who would be quiet in a classroom have plenty to say and interesting details to share in writing.  Enable the settings to allow students to attach files and photos.
  •  Allow students to add discussions and create and open forum.
    • Designate a sharing space for students to answer each others’ questions (for extra credit) or share useful discoveries and materials. 
  • Graded discussions: Keep questions open-ended to elicit detailed responses.
  • Grade on the quality of arguments/position, not the content. To avoid training students to simply imitate you, make your expectations and criteria clear.
  • Examples: Provide sufficient examples. Do not force students to guess if you have specific desired outcomes. When teachers want students to reach and be creative, there is a tendency to scrimp on examples. Instead, provide at least 3 examples for a project of assignment: Make examples very different from each other and all fulfilling the assignment. This allows students to draw inferences and struggle productively.
  • Rule of Thumb: When the teacher is working too hard, the students are probably bored.
    • Shift the roles and duties to change this dynamic. Example: Peer reviews of students’ rough drafts are ideal! They help students “play teacher” and develop meta-skills, communication, and engagement. The reviewing student learns the most, and the teacher gets a higher quality finished work to grade.

Additional Online Teaching Resources

The following web articles provide information for best practices in teaching online.

Measuring What Matters

Prepare Discussions that Engage

Building Community

See also:

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REV EZ 08/20/21