What is social presence, and why does it matter?
There is a growing body of literature which demonstrates that it is much more common for online or distance students to suffer from feelings of isolation during their study, and this isolation contributes to disengagement (see, for example, Delahunty et al. 2014). As we discussed yesterday, these social/affective dimensions of the learning experience are the key aspects to fostering engagement among students. One key way you can address student engagement is by consciously working to create a sense of social presence. Savvidou (2013) defines social presence as projecting one’s self and establishing purposeful relationships to facilitate communication and group cohesion, and that this is even more necessary in online spaces as they can often seem to be “lacking” compared to face-to-face. Related to this is the concept of teacher presence, which relates to how visible and active the teachers are in the online environment. Recent evidence from here at the ANU has demonstrated that active and consistent moderation from teaching staff, and activities designed to promote engagement between students in a course, can improve course outcomes and lead to positive online learning experiences (Kizimchuk et al., 2016 – Full disclosure: I am an author on this paper!)
To get us started, watch this video below from the Learning to Teach Online series from UNSW on teacher presence and engaging students.
Let’s look at an example of how this might work. I’ve created a short video of myself to bring a bit of teacher and social presence into our coffee course! Take a look and let me know how you feel it impacts the feelings of community and engagement with both me (as the facilitator) and with your colleagues in the course.
Your activity for this week
Recall the advice given by the academics and students in the “Learning to Teach Online” video above. How can you apply these to your own teaching? Think through either the “Setting Expectations” or “Creating Spaces for Engagement” sections below, and share in the comments how you have been doing these things in your courses, or how you might like to do them in the future based on our discussions so far. I invite you to share your responses via video or another method of your choosing, and text replies are always welcome.
Activity 1: Setting expectations
The key aspect to creating engagement is by modelling what you’d like participation in the course to be like. Without the active presence and engagement from the teaching team, students may feel that there is “no point” in participating themselves. What is your communication plan?
Take a moment to reflect on how you do the following things in an online context:
- Breaking the ice, or doing introductions
- Keeping students updated
- Facilitating discussions
- Setting up class expectations and rules
How have you done these things in your face-to-face classes? How about the online spaces?
Activity 2: Creating space for engagement
Like all of us, students are busy and have many things competing for their time. Why should they participate in your course? How can you encourage them?
Here are some suggestions to reflect on:
- Are there spaces for students to test their knowledge or chat without affecting their grades?
- Is participation compulsory or voluntary? Is it graded? How is it graded?
- Is just posting once all that’s required to “get the grade” or do they need to reply or comment on other posts as well?
- Are students required to interact with each other or just the teachers?
- How much and when do the teaching staff participate in the forums? In what ways?
Of course, there is no one way to effectively “engage” students that will work for everyone – it depends on the context of your course, the discipline, your time, how the course is structured, and many other factors. What do you think would work best for you?
I look forward to reading your responses and thoughts!
- Delahunty, J., Verenikina, I., & Jones, P. (2014) Socio-emotional connections: identity, belongong and learning in online interactions. A literature review. Technology, Pedagogy and Education. 23(2):243-265. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1475939X.2013.813405
- Kizimchuk, S., Freund, K.,Prescott, M., McLaughlin, C. & Mewburn, I. (2016). Collective effervescence: Designing MOOCs for emotion and community. In S. Barker, S. Dawson, A. Pardo, & C. Colvin (Eds.), Show Me The Learning. Proceedings ASCILITE 2016 Adelaide (pp. 348-353). Available: http://2016conference.ascilite.org/wp-content/uploads/ASCILITE-2016-full-proceedings-Updated-1512.pdf
- Savvidou, C. (2013) ‘Thanks for sharing your story’: the role of the teacher in facilitating social presence in online discussion. Technology, Pedagogy and Education. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1475939X.2013.787267. 22(2):193-211.
As it takes some effort for students to log in to Wattle and reach the discussion forum is there an alternative forum you could recommend that works similar to wattsapp or facebook – an app they can download that provides instant notification of a message and facilitates real time interaction with minimal effort?
Tam, I don’t want students to interact with minimal effort: I want them to take time and think deeply, before replying. For that reason the clunky interface of Moodle (and Mahara) might have benefits, by slowing them down. To more explicitly slow them, I use a Moodle setting to limit the number of postings each student can make in a day. Also I set Moodle to not count late posts for assessment. The idea is for the student to learn to make a few, well reasoned, short, timely contributions. Now if I could just learn to do that myself. 😉
Hi Tam, I take Tom’s point on board but I also agree that Wattle is not great for those sorts of “real-time” conversations like you get with social media. There’s a few suggestions I have:
One is that I know Piazza has been used by many academics to great effect – https://piazza.com/ I’ve seen papers about its use from Uni of Canberra so there’s a local example of it working well.
The second is that an upcoming version of Moodle/Wattle has much better notifications. We should be upgrading to this in around a year or so, so that might help with your concerns as well.
Thx for suggesting Piazza. I am working entirely outside of Moodle and so am really open to hearing about free (!) tools that have been put to the test already :-).
Putting social presence into on line education in medicine is an interesting one as what the students are needing to learn and practice requires a lot of this. I think any topic needed to be covered should be related back to a real patient case scenario to help draw the students in. Even hearing directly from a patient in the on line production may help?
Hi Michael – including real cases and patients in online learning is such a great idea! Obviously there would be privacy/confidentiality concerns but if the patients agreed then capturing videos from them would add a lot of value I think!
I’m pondering setting expectations, specifically contrasting the context of MOOC-style online courses (where there are a large number of enrolments, but only a comparatively small subset will be actively engaged with the course as students) and online delivery within a university (e.g. via Wattle at the ANU). The contrast for icebreakers, introductions, and and discussion facilitation is clear. In MOOCs, things like icebreakers / introductions become very overwhelming due to the sheer volume of people involved, and can be somewhat unhelpful because only a fraction of the people introducing themselves will end up engaging right through to the end of the course. In closed online delivery, they are indeed vital to get a sense of community. Thanks to the scalability of internet communication, the challenges/methods of keeping students updated and facilitating discussion can be done through similar mechanisms, though perhaps a bigger moderation/teaching team would be needed to support a greater volume of students (as there will simply be more discussion to facilitate).
Expectations (and how they are set), however, might bear closer scrutiny; is it feasible to expect everyone to respond to at least three original posts when there’s only a small number of people posting in the first place? Certainly it’s a fair expectation with thousands of posts. But with thousands of posts, what expectations can be set on the quality and interaction between students? To date, I’ve seen both smaller closed courses and MOOCs work successfully using more traditional ‘course outline’ style expectation parametrisation and dissemination (the kind you get with physical uni courses), but also work with a more flexible interactive ongoing style you tend to see more in discussion forums.
While thinking about all this, the only solid opinion I have is that if an expectation is present, it should be clear and enforced (e.g. decide on a topic, due date, word count; shout it from the rooftops; then actually grade people depending on if they hit that topic by the due date in the word count). This should hold for online courses of all sizes, as well as physical ones. If expectations aren’t both clear and upheld, well, “dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria”…
Erin, I don’t see MOOCs as real courses, just a marketing tool. Where there are large numbers of students they need to be divided into discussion groups. But perhaps online discussion groups can be bigger (50 to 100 students) than face to face ones (two dozen students at most). Also it might be possible to identify the best of the posts (by peer assessment) for highlighting to all students.
It would be useful if there was software which would suggest who should be grouped with who, based on their profile. For some of the on-line courses I have done we had to each prepare a profile and then use that to select who to do group work with. But there was only ever 50 students at most and some of the choices I made were poor (choosing people just like me). Techlauncher at ANU also uses this peer selection approach. http://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2015/02/techlauncher-team-formation-day.html
Reflecting on activity one (including overlaps with activity two!):
To break the ice I mainly rely on introducing myself as frankly as possible, making some little funny comments about my French accent and some cultural clashes I experienced (this way I hope to relate to international students but also to students who might be a bit shy). For the online course, I could indeed go for a video so it would be obvious to students that I am not a native English speaker at least! It is also more personal indeed, more engaging (after viewing Katie’s video, I realised it does create a sense of having met the person face-to-face and of being then more at ease with this person). Now I need to figure out how to do this!
I keep students updated using the forum but also the Wattle front page and calendar. I will make sure that, if I add any new resource to the course, I will let the students know about it and I will explain the relevance and importance of it. I really appreciated the point, raised by one of the speakers of the UNSW video, about not dominating students, not being only there to tell them what they have to do. This relates, I think, to the notion of the teacher being part of the learning community not simply being the one in charge of everything. I believe it is important to make students realise that they are also teaching us many things and that, although they can count on us, they must become part of the team if they want to become independent learners and obtain the most out of their learning experience, they must realise they cannot rely on the teachers for everything.
To facilitate discussions, I aim to always respond to students’ posts (even if this means simply thanking them for their comment). This way I hope they will also respond to their peers’ posts on regular basis. Yet, as mentioned yesterday, I find keeping up with this difficult as the semester goes so allocating certain facilitator roles to students is probably a way to try to reduce our workload as well as an incentive for students to be engaged more regularly. I don’t allocate any marks or grade to discussion input, I am quite reluctant to do so as I would like the posts to remain genuine, out of real personal or class interest. I don’t want students to post something just because they have to do so, I want them to eagerly engage in the learning community we are building through the discussion link. Yet, this is not working for all students and I must admit that, for some, a carrot in front of them is maybe what they need to be active participants. In addition, responding to one of the comments of a lady in the video about engaging students. She mentioned that if this is done in the first two weeks then it flows from there and nothing much more is required. It unfortunately is not my experience or not with all students anyway and finding ways to prompt those students is something I am much interested in (another lady in the video mentioned contacting them privately or posting questions, this may work with some students but probably not with the most reluctant ones, so here comes again the dilemma of allocating marks!).
To set class expectations and rules, I generally discuss, in depth, the course’s learning objectives (explaining how different sections/activities match the learning outcomes). I also emphasise that, if students were to reach the outcomes, then they must reach up to the course’s expectations and rules.
Sorry, the link should be
Phil! Loved the video! Thanks for taking up the challenge. It’s great to hear and see your thoughts on the topic, and see you in your natural habitat with the ducks. I really agree with your point that students are learning online anyway, even in face-to-face courses – it’s the world we live in now! I’d love to hear how adding some marks or requirements for students to comment on the blogs goes. I taught a sociology course with this requirement a few years ago and while some of the comments are mechanical, it did bring about some great collaborations and exchange of ideas that might not have happened otherwise.
Thank you so much for your video – I really enjoyed it and feel possibly inspired to make on myself in the next day or two. The online course I was in required responses to online discussion forums. These were comprehensive and very interesting. Although, I imagine for the course convenors and tutors it would have required a lot of input in terms of monitoring and marking.
Loved your video, Phil! Very engaging 🙂 I learned lots from just watching you and hearing how you create space for engagement not just in terms of you being present through your replies to students’ posts or blog entries, but also in other ways. ie the newsfeed, weekly quiz and the test exams which see, like good mechanisms for sustaining engagement and building students’ confidence in the Wattle environment.
Hi Phil, I just wanted to say thanks for being brave and having a go with the video! I definitely feel like I have a better sense of you as a person and your personality after watching your video, in a way that I don’t think would have been the same if you’d written it as a post.
I saw your comment below about the length and, for me, I didn’t feel that your video length was an issue. I found your presence (both visually and aurally) engaging, I appreciated the opinions and reflection you were sharing and found them insightful, so I was watching attentively the whole time. As Katie says below, it is a balance. In my experience, it’s about having a presenter and content that is appealing first, considering the purpose of the video (and what would the viewers would reasonably expect to pay attention for) and then worrying about the video length.
Thanks for joining us Kahiwa! 🙂
Activity 1: Setting expectations
* Breaking the ice, or doing introductions
Katie, I can see you are a real university person, from the pile of papers on the shelf behind you in the video. 😉
More seriously, at just under two minutes your video introduction is about the right length.
So far I have made do with an audio introduction, with a still photo, for on-line courses. One thing which worries me is the amount of time needed for preparing such a video and also that you have to remember to provide a text alternative for those who can’t see the video (due to a disability or equipment limitations).
* Keeping students updated
I have been a student in fourteen on-line courses in the last five years and an instructor for seven. As a student I found the introductory video from the instructor was useful, but the weekly update videos got very tedious. If I am getting feedback on a draft assignment, then I want this in text, not a video which I have to keep pausing, finding the relevant section in the assignment and then playing (and replaying). For that reason, I don’t use video updates in my courses.
ps: In five years of study, I met only two of my instructors face-to-face, when they were speaking at international conferences: http://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2016/12/pioneering-global-open-education-at.html#online
* Facilitating discussions
About a third of the courses I have been a student in had a real time video (webinar) component. It was rare for these to work without a technical or logistical problem. I would find I had no sound or the time for the event was given in some obscure time zone and I missed it. I suggest it is therefore very important to provide asynchronous and text based alternatives.
The ultimate video problem was when I was preparing to make my masters defence live on-line last year and a pile-driver started outside the window. I found a quieter room, but then my computer would only send sound and I had to use another to receive it. So I spent an hour talking into one computer, then putting my ear down over the tinny speaker of another to hear the next question.
* Setting up class expectations and rules
Students need to know how much to contribute, when and how this will be assessed. If it is not assessed then you are effectively telling the student that the interaction has no value and they need not bother.
* How have you done these things in your face-to-face classes?
I don’t do many face to face classes, and when I do I model the approach on how I run on-line classes.
* How about the online spaces?
At the start of the course I provide the students with the specifications of how much they have to interact, when and what marks they will get. I then give them group and individual weekly feedback.
I discourage students from making too many posts, emphasizing quality, not quantity. Some students can become addicted to the forums and need to be told to slow down (and that they are not the tutor. I have that tendency to post too much too often and got into the habit of drafting replies in my e-journal, then post about one third of these to the group.
Some great comments Tom – from both perspectives, which is important. I agree absolutely with the length of Katie’s video. Upon looking at mine after I recorded it I realised it was too long, but I couldn’t be bothered re-recording it as, after not being happy with my first take, then having my phone run out of storage space during the second, I wasn’t going to do it all again! That is, it all takes time, which most of us don’t have enough of.
Hi Phil – I didn’t find yours too long but it’s hard balance to strike. I will admit that I have lots of experience making videos, editing etc, so it has taken me a few years to get to the stage where I can get all my videos under 2 minutes! Also I edit mine pretty substantially to get them down to that size. (The original, unedited video was 7 minutes.)
I think I was one of those students who became a bit pre-occupied with the online discussions and spent a lot more time in them than was necessary. Perhaps this time might have been better spent on assignments.
Last semester I was the tutor for a graduate course which involved tutes as the only face-to-face contact, with pre-recorded lectures available from the beginning of semester and a course convenor who did all the assessments, both the more traditional research essay format plus the weekly Wattle posts from students. Our convenor is a gold medal feeback-provider with ‘firm but fair’ comments that always happen in a timely fashion. She responds to each post and also each week provides a “welcome to this week” post that links our readings together along with the questions that are set for discussion during tutorials. Some very interesting things happened during this course which I thought I might bring into the conversation… the online component, aside from the lectures (which some students choose to listen to while driving or cycling to work or university, by the way) also included 1% per weekly blog post (not graded, just “did” or “did not” submit). Students could choose to do the blog post or not, with a small ‘carrot’ for their efforts. I framed this as “free money” during our first week of tutes, explaining that all they needed to do was comment on one aspect of readings or even our tutorial discussion to highlight in under 200 words. No pressure, just a little add in, and a extra 1% that could add up to 13% over the semester which can be the difference between pass & credit… Not everyone did it every week, but most people did it most of the time. (especially if they were away for the tute, this would give them the incentive to do at least one reading and respond online). And most of the student content was in fact interesting! No “stocking filler” or box ticking in the end… sometimes a single detail that someone picked up on or an extra comment (the thing that you thought of 20 minutes after the end of the conversation, that killer point that would have wone everyone over)… Everyone took the task seriously possibly because everyone in the class could see the comment? Another aspect which took on a life of its own was posting people’s slides on Wattle… Each week we had different student presenters during tutes and from the first week presenters seemed fine with their slides being shared online as well as in class… (they’d email them to me afterwards and Id post them on our discussion forum). This just evolved really… Two things came out of this: everyone used slide handouts from then on (which they may have done anyway), even though this was purely optional. Secondly, and most importantly, when we all reconvened to prep for the take-home exam, people’s contributions were brought back in as refreshers while going over the course content. So students themselves helped develop teaching aids for their colleagues during exam period… A form of crowd-sourcing? Or open source content? I mention all of this to make the point that giving students options and asking them to make choices of their own free can also lead to good quality interactions and great feedback loops.. But would this have played out in the same way if we hadnt been in the same room – physically – sharing cups of tea and bickies and building up trust in a face to face environment, ‘esprit de corps’? Thats the big, scary challenge underpinning most of student engagement (online or off)… how do we encourage diaologue regardless of the medium…
HI Thea, thanks for your insights! I think you have created a really great model for the course you describe. I myself struggle to remember that all our students are adult learners, and when they choose not to engage or participate it is their choice. But providing an environment where they have options on how to participate, and that their contributions are valued by the community, is such a fantastic approach. I’m glad it worked well for you! The issue of medium is one I struggle with as well, particularly as online participation privileges some, and face-to-face privileges others. This is something we will look at in Monday’s post though, so we can explore it further.
Activity 2: Creating space for engagement
My approach to engagement is described in Worthington (2012), adapted from Lindley (2007), who got it from Salmon.
* Are there spaces for students to test their knowledge or chat without affecting their grades?
Yes, I routinely provide a chat forum for students to informally discuss and explicitly point out that this is not for assessment and I may not monitor it. In one course as a student I got annoyed when the instructor kept butting in on our student-only forum.
* Is participation compulsory or voluntary? Is it graded? How is it graded?
For most of the on-line courses I have run and been a student of, about 10% to 20% of the overall grade is for participation. Where a student I get annoyed if there is no indication of how you are doing and there is just a mark at the end for participation (usually 100%).
For “ICT Sustainability” (COMP7310) I found that some very low and very high achieving students were not participating, even though this was graded. The low achieving students were afraid to participate, whereas the high ones worked out they did not need the extra marks. I changed the grading scheme so they had to get 50% on participation to pass the course and that fixed the problem.
For years I would carefully read every contribution from every student and agonize over a mark out of 2 for them, every week. After doing a course in assessment I tried peer assessment and found it worked. The students mark much as I do (but they tend to be 10% harder markers). Now I just check the peer marks and add comments for student who need help.
* Is just posting once all that’s required to “get the grade” or do they need to reply or comment on other posts as well?
Normally I have students answer two questions a week and reply to an answer to each question from another student (total of four postings a week).
* Are students required to interact with each other or just the teachers?
Students are required to interact with each other. I normally do not participate in the discussion, as that tends to stifle it.
* How much and when do the teaching staff participate in the forums? In what ways?
Occasionally I have to post a comment to correct something. But instead I will normally send a private message to a student and suggest what they should post.
Lindley, David. (2007) Computer Professional Education using Mentored
and Collaborative Online Learning [Online]. Available:
Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2012.6295070
I teach finance and banking in F2F mode but have taught some years back in online mode too. Some of the strategies that I have used successfully to engage students in my class:
1. Every student brings a news item/report from the financial press such as Bloomberg for example for discussion in the tutorial. The student who brings it champions this. Generally there is time allotted for this about 10-15 minutes. The news article needs be on the topic of the tutorial only.
2. I give a list of videos which they can watch at home and then we discuss that in the class. There is plenty of stuff on finance and banking which makes my job a lot easier. This luxury other disciplines may not have.
3. I have a Twitter and Facebook page to which students subscribe. Some of my past students continue to be there!! One of the subscribers to my Twitter account (though he never was my student) is former Prime Minister Tony Abbott !
4. I form two teams during tutorial and give them a current topic. The two teams are required to defend their rival positions on the issue.
Hi Milind, thanks for your comment. I really like the team debate approach to a tutorial discussion – how did you find that worked in your class?
Hi Katie, your personal video has, I think, the intended effect of “social presence”. So it inspired me to attempt to reply by video, although I am one of those who will find this uncomfortable. So therefore I need the practice and this seems to be the right place to do it!
So here’s the thing — How do I upload a video response here? I cannot see a way.. I said somethingearlier about the right tooling for online courses seems to be very important. Right now I exepct to see a button on this page that says “capture and post video” or something –so then while I look at the “Activity” text on the page I can speak my response to what I see there . It might be less preared than a text response like this — but I suspect the off-the-cuffness might be a good way to improve the “social” presence — make we presenters less like robots or movie stars and more like present people (I do not plan to present lecture materila videos off-the-cuff — but I can see a case for discussions to be done with unscripted video…).
Kerry, apologies for not replying earlier! I ended up going home unwell yesterday but am back in the office today. Both Phil and I used the same approach for sharing our videos, which was to upload them to YouTube to share them in the blog. I don’t think the blog itself has an easy way to include videos directly.
If you’d like to try YouTube, you can make the video “unlisted” so that it is not visible except to those of us in this course (it cannot be found by searching). Here are some steps on how to do this: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/57407?co=GENIE.Platform%3DDesktop&hl=en
Otherwise, please feel free to contact me and I can help you find the best way to share a video. My contact info is here: https://services.anu.edu.au/business-units/dr-katie-freund
Here’s my behind-the-scenes confession though – I actually did write a script for the video you saw above! It’s just off camera the whole time, just printed in extra large script so it’s easy to ready. I have filmed myself many, many times now and I know that unless I have written notes I tend to ramble and get off topic very easily. But this is partially a function of my personality – very chatty! So I need the script to stay on topic and keep the video short.
Thanks for the tips! Your notes certainly did not show – it looked quite natural — maybe did you do acting classes?
When you say you had a script can you please advise on whether your sprepared script was word-by-word (like a tele-prompter) or perhaps just notes for where you wanted to go?
And thanks for the hint on youtube uploads. Unfortunately that method (I think you would be suggesting the “Unlisted videos and playlists can be seen and shared by anyone with the link.” method ) together with the youtube privacy terms and conditions means that I am not prepared to use it! Nevertheless I do thnk I can make this idea work with Wattle.
Hi Kerry – no worries at all! 🙂
I did write the script out word-for-word, but I don’t read it that way, if that makes sense. I like to have a clear, grammatically-correct version of what I want to say so I can lean on it if I need to, but then I prefer to just glance at it for a sense of what I can say and then ad-lib it a bit. (In the video I shared, whenever there is a cut between sections with a dissolve between them, I have cut out the part where I am looking down and reading the script!!) I think this hits that balance between scripted/concise and informal/approachable.
I don’t give any marks for participation as such. However, every student has to make presentation for 5 minutes on current topic relating to the unit under study once during the semester. Presentation carries 10 marks. After reading this blog, I am considering to divide that in two parts next semester: Presentation 5 marks and Engagement 5 marks.
However, I need to consider this carefully since even without marks students are found to be participating well. It may be because the subject ‘finance’ is exciting and of interest to every one!
Apologies for the lack of video…i have the excuse that i have been recording a few for the course i am convening and giving some of the lectures so need a rest! The 12 sessions of the Global Population Health Course comprise 3-6 lectures each, each lecture around 15 min – all lectures are pre-recorded videos and delivered online. One aspect that we were advised last year was to make sure that the recording included the face /body of the lecturer and not just an audio powerpoint. Students do comment if your face does not show up!
It is reassuring to hear that some of what we are doing seems to be the right approach! But i am learning new things as well, that i can put in practice tomorrow! i am booked to to record a couple of more lectures, one of them being the intro to the course itself – seeing Katie’s presentation i just decided to include a bit about my background and my career at the begining – that way i feel a bit more intitled to ask students to do the same in the online discussion forum.
One question – i could not see the link to the pdf that is mentioned in the 1st video above – where can i find it? that video had some really interesting tips easy to put in practice (like setting expectations and rules for online discussion forums) and it would be easier to be able to refer to a printed document. thanks
HI Susana, it sounds like you have spent a lot of time on video! I would love to hear how including some personal details helps build community in your class if you want to report back.
Here’s the page with the PDF mentioned in the video that you enquired about: http://online.cofa.unsw.edu.au/learning-to-teach-online/ltto-episodes?view=video&video=221
So far, I have not tried a video to introduce myself as I am too conscious in front of the camera. However, after looking at Katie’s video, I am convinced that it is a better way of introducing yourself. I teach only face-to-face, but students introduce themselves on the discussion board, particularly when they need a team-member for a group assignment.
Hi Suneeta – being on video can be a very confronting experience. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it, but then I thought– why am I okay with standing in front of 500 people in a lecture hall but not in front of a camera in my own office! This helped me break through my self-consciousness, but it was hard for a long time. I’ve just learned to ignore it recently (after 5 years or so).
Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking post! Lots of really great information and ideas in terms of engaging students and facilitating discussion. Since our course is being run both in person and face to face, we are working hard to make sure that online students have similar opportunities for engagement and feedback as the face-to-face students.
In terms of introductions – we have included video introductions from both the course convenor (Susana) and the tutor (me) which I hope will encourage students to introduce themselves. We have a general discussion forum that is not graded so we hope students will use this forum to get to know each other – I guess this may take some encouragement.
We also have specific questions for discussion for each week of the course, which are posted in discussion forums that are monitored and graded for participation. This forum will be primarily monitored by me as the course tutor, and I will do my best to respond to all the comments and to facilitate discussion. Online students will work in pairs for tutorial activities, and we will ask lecturers to provide feedback on video presentations that the students will submit using the discussion forum.
Participation will be graded and represents 20% of the overall mark of the class – enough to keep students motivated I hope, along with plenty of feedback throughout the course.
Chickening out of creating a video for this post…BUT Katie you have set the tone perfectly by giving us an exemplar. Thanks for explaining your process, the script, the retakes and editing. I plan to add making a video to my list of PD tasks. It’s a great activity that encapsulates a whole bunch of skills – media literacies, concise and clear communication of ideas within a short time frame, practising being on camera – important for getting one’s message across in this media saturated world!
I recall initially envisaging creating something similar of myself saying hi for our pilot schol comms module; the idea then being that course participants would do the same. I might revisit this idea of a short video but perhaps as a mechanism for feedback.
Has anyone used video as the vehicle for peer feedback in collaborative learning online?
So my reflections (Activity 1 and 2)
*Face to face, modelling by doing is so much easier 🙂 Setting the tone by modelling what you’d like participation in the online environment to be like. Lightbulb 101 moment for me here! and the recognition that this was not done effectively (or with a plan or understanding of how) in our pilot module. In the end, the engagement happened in a blended manner with two face to face sessions built around the online content. Thinking ahead…how do I incorporate meaningful online interaction in the next module and what resources will this involve to make it doable? Resourcing ongoing engagement is a challenge for us.
*Creating space for engagement – creating space is more than setting up a forum or a digital communication channel isn’t it? Flows on from the idea of connection and the ’emotional space’ we create. The comments from UNSW academics in the video resonated with me eg. teacher presence is a very important part of the socialisation of students into online learning + the concept of the teacher [facilitator in my case] playing the role of a “guide on the side”. The need for a real person/real place is genuine and builds trust. I can see this was missing from our pilot to some degree.
Given that the project I’m involved in doesn’t include assessment and is completely voluntary I need to think of other means to incentivise online engagement. I’ve been predominantly engaging with learners who are known to me personally (local ANU HDR students and staff) via email and face to face…and even then inconsistently.
I’m wondering if a staggered rollout of some quizzes or a newsfeed that prompts a weekly question might be appropriate?
Hi Imogen, glad you got some ideas from the post and the other comments. I had the exact same “lightbulb” moment when I first learned about teacher presence! Ongoing engagement in professional development training spaces is a tough one, because on the one hand you want it to stand on its own so you can move on and do other things, and in the other obviously having the participants interact and learn from each other is beneficial (but requires ongoing resourcing!). I think a newsfeed or updates might be a great start to keep people in the loop with you!
I too have chickened out in the video department but it is now on my to do list! Great concise video Katie.
I am currently teaching a blended unit with online pre-recorded lectures and F2F tutorials. I found students tuned out to a full lecture about half-way through (I don’t blame them, I too have a short attention span!). This semester I am trialing 3-4 short podcasts for each topic instead. I have also added more online resources (videos/links to journal articles or websites). I use announcements for student updates and have a student forum. There is currently no grades for online participation although after reading all these comments I think I may give it a try for winter term.
Now that I have seen the videos above I think ‘putting a face’ on the online forum may be useful. Maybe I could encourage the students to do the same! My biggest lesson learnt from the online environment is to not make assumptions about online literacy. I now try and ensure I provide clear instructions for students and screenshots for how to upload assignments etc. I also try and use consistent formatting for weekly topics to ease navigation through the site.
Hi Courtney – thanks for your post! I agree with your point on not making assumptions about online literacy. Students come from such a wide range of backgrounds that there is no way to assume what skills will be common or uncommon in a cohort. And many online skills students have may not necessarily translate to a university context!
I’ve only taught f2f courses so far, but I am working on a blended course at the moment, so I am excited to see how my engagement tactics will translate.
I think introductions/ice-breakers are very important. I always make sure I do that in every tutorial to help students feel more comfortable. It really makes a difference. Last semester I forgot to do an ice-breaker in one of the 3 introductory tutorials I was doing on the same day, and the students were noticeably quieter and shy in the one where I forgot to do an ice-breaker. It’s very important in online courses, too. The video introduction really creates the feeling of presence. I am absolutely taking this on board!
For keeping students updated, I make announcements in class and also post on Wattle. However, I often notice that students don’t see the Wattle posts and Wattle messages reach them better. I also miss post by students sometimes, so I’ve come to the conclusion that Wattle doesn’t notify its users well. Has anybody else run into the same problem?
I haven’t tried to facilitate discussions online, and it’s not something that is needed for the course that I am about to teach, but I do encourage students to share any relevant sources or information with others in Wattle forums.
Hi Ksenia, Wattle definitely has issues around notifications! There are lots of different settings that impact how/when students get notifications, which is very confusing. One related issue is that Wattle notifications always go to the official ANU email account, which some students might not use regularly. There are some settings that you can customise as a teacher to help students get notifications, but students can also change their own settings as well. I can recommend a few strategies for you to help students get the notifications if you like?
– check the forum subscription type by opening the forum in Wattle, click on Administration, and see what the Subscription Mode is. If it is “Auto Subscription” or “Forced Subscription” then students will get notifications sent to them.
– check your forum preferences in your Wattle profile – there are instructions here under Step 6 https://services.anu.edu.au/information-technology/software-systems/wattle/configuring-profile-and-preference-settings This will determine when you get emails from Wattle. Students can also change these settings for themselves.
– If something is really important, I recommend sending a Message rather than putting it in a forum post, as Messages always go out right away and trigger an email to students immediately. Here is some more info: https://services.anu.edu.au/information-technology/software-systems/wattle/send-a-message-to-your-class
I hope that helps! Drop Wattle Support a line if you want to discuss it a bit further! https://services.anu.edu.au/business-units/anu-online/business-solutions-group
Since my class is fully online, I do my introduction thru video just to make it more personal. I briefly talk about myself and what I do. One of the “introduce yourself” activities that students enjoy and really go “wild” with is when I ask them to introduce themselves using a line from a movie, a song, a poem, an ad… I find that students comment about their classmates’ posts when I do it this way than just the plain “I am X and I’m XXX … “.
I’m not very consistent with keeping students updated but I try my best to update students with upcoming activities, important dates, deadlines, where I’m up to in marking their assessments etc. I use the announcements forum of Moodle for this. When they pop a question in the forum, I also reply as soon as I can.
In terms of facilitating discussions, I try my best to be present and to highlight good points in certain posts. I also invite the class to share what they think about a student’s post. Or I give a follow-up question to a post. I connect 2 or 3 different posts. I open a new discussion if I find any news item, article, photo – something authentic – which is related to the lesson. For instance, in the accessibility course that I’m teaching, I shared the new adaptive game controller that Xbox released for gamers with disabilities. I got students discussing it within minutes after I posted. The challenge for me about facilitating discussions is the Moodle forum. It’s just difficult to have that flowing discussion. Students need to jump around posts or topics to reply or even find my question which is often a reply to a post.
Class expectations and rules are in the Course Guide which are given to the students during the first week. But if necessary, I make announcements about rules during the term.
I told in a Module 1 post about my worst experience that included a full on fight on a Wattle discussion forum that evolved in the middle of the night before the educators were able to moderate it. This made me to emphasise the importance of introducing, establishing, and enforcing a good code of conduct (as ground rules) from day one, and leading this by example.
I also felt encouraged after the daily contents above — the first two weeks matter the most in the strong teacher presence and hence, I can do this.
Recently, during online delivery, I was teaching a course that contained a number of guest lectures from different experts. It was a significant challenge to create an online social presence for not only myself but also the guest lecturers! One strategy that one guest lecturer used that worked very well was to include a short video introducing themselves where they spoke directly to the camera, before moving into their powerpoint slides. Students commented that this made them feel connected to the lecturer and was less distracting than having a small video of the lecturer’s face running at the bottom of the screen, while they were trying to concentrate on the slides. From the lecturer’s point of it is also a lot easier to record voice only in one take! I am planning to borrow this model in future.
Hi Alison! That’s such a great idea – relatively short and quick, but also gives that personal touch that a lot of online teaching is lacking. And a short hello video doesn’t need to be produced overmuch either. Great suggestion!