Much of the theory of teaching online and deepening your presence in an online course is based on the Community of Inquiry, an influential model pioneered by three Canadian researchers. The Community of Inquiry is based on the idea that effective educational experiences are created when the instructor fosters a community with strong elements of Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, and Teaching Presence. Click on the links above to get a sense of the three terms. If you are using a device that can play Flash, you may also find this interactive graphic helpful. Otherwise, read on for our definitions of the terms.
Both students and the instructor exhibit the following presences, but for this course we are primarily concerned with what the instructor brings to the course during course delivery. Basically, this is what the terms mean when we use them:
- Social Presence is the sense that people who interact in an online course are actual people and not mindless robots, or even very clever computers. We will primarily be concerned with how you as the instructor can increase your social presence. For example, this week you will be writing your instructor bio, a key step in beginning to establish your social presence in a course.
- Cognitive Presence is the engagement with the content of a course, the construction of meaning, through sustained communication. Much of the work of planning for cognitive presence is done during the design phase, but as you facilitate you will see opportunities to help further your students’ understanding of the material and meet the learning objectives.
- Teaching Presence is the work done to direct the design, facilitation, and direct instruction. This work binds the course together, sustaining the community. (Even students can have a teaching presence in a course when they collaborate with the instructor to, for example, moderate a discussion.)
We’ve condensed these topics for you in the graphic below. Hover over a circle to read more about that specific presence.
There is no clear delimitation between the terms listed above; social presence does not stop where cognitive presence picks up. Rather, think of them as needs that an instructor must meet in order for the students to succeed in online learning. A pop culture analogy might help. In the video game The Sims, the player controls an avatar and has to make sure its basic needs (hunger, fun, social, etc.) are met. The player directs the avatar to do certain things that will fill up its need meters. Some things only fill up one meter—washing the avatar’s hands will fill up only the hygiene meter. However, many activities will fill up more than one meter. For example, watching TV with a friend will fill up the fun and social meters.
This is also the case with your students. They need your presence in many different aspects to succeed in an online course. Something like giving feedback or participating in a discussion may deepen more than one aspect of an instructor’s presence in a course. Of course, unlike the Sims meters, you won’t have colored bars to let you know when your students’ needs are being met (wouldn’t teaching be easier if you did!). Learning how to balance your students’ needs with your available time is the art of teaching online, which will get easier as you gain experience.
Other than ensuring we share a common vocabulary for this course, it doesn’t matter too much whether you remember the difference between cognitive presence and teaching presence, or instructor presence and teaching presence, but there are a few takeaways that are important to remember:
- Projecting yourself as an individual person with a personality is an essential part of teaching online and helping students reach learning goals.
- Instructors in online learning should foster connections between students to create a learning community.
- The facilitation of a course is a crucial part of enabling students to succeed.