It’s critical for the instructor to foster social presence (the feeling that there is a real person behind the keyboard) in any learning environment. With the absence of physical presence and non-verbal cues, students in online courses may feel like they are taking a “canned course,” that they are just a number, or that the online course is a second priority for the instructor. Instructors need to intentionally foster social presence in their online course because it doesn’t happen automatically as it might in a face-to-face course.
What does social presence mean in the online classroom? Social presence means you have a strong personal presence in the course, taking the time to get to know the students and letting them get to know you. It means interacting with the students in a way that is unique to you and also encouraging them to interact with each other. It means students feel they have an instructor who cares about their success and is interested in them as individuals.
Some steps to establish social presence include:
- Posting an engaging instructor bio before the course opens
- Sharing photos from your recent vacation in an announcement and connecting them to the topic at hand in the course (Tip: students love this)
- Responding to discussion posts by asking follow-up questions and including some insight from your own experience
- Including—and participating in—a discussion topic in your course set aside for conversations not related to the course content (often this topic is called the Watercooler, or the Cafe)