Between 2003 and 2007, online course enrollments increased by 100% (Moore & Fetzner, 2009), and despite a decrease in overall enrollments in higher education since then, online learning continues to see steady gains in the number of students enrolling each term. A recent report revealed that there were almost 6.4 million students enrolled in distance education courses in Fall 2016 (Allen & Seaman, 2017) and that the growth rate of online learning has been consistently increasing (Muljana & Luo, 2019). Additionally, as of a 2016 Gallup study, approximately 40% of higher education faculty have now taught in an online environment (Rhode, Richter, & Miller, 2017). With these numbers in mind, it’s important for us to consider how our roles as faculty have changed and evolved to meet the needs of our students.
Faculty Presence in the Virtual Classroom Space
At Saint Leo, we believe in the power of online learning, and we advocate for our virtual classrooms to be engaging, collaborative spaces where both our students and our faculty can grow as members of a community and excel as individuals. So how can you, as the facilitator of an online course, make the most impact? Let’s first consider your presence.
For many of you, and many others in higher ed, you may never share the same physical space as your students, so it’s important to think about virtual teaching and learning environments. Perhaps the most obvious space is the learning management system (LMS), D2L's Brightspace, which we call Courses. When we talk about faculty presence in physical spaces, it’s easy to see how the instructor’s presence is a part of the class - the writing on the board, the slides on the screen, the physical movement around the classroom – all indicators of teaching presence. But what about online? When your students enter their virtual space, do they know “where” you are? What ways have you made your presence known?
For many faculty, the use of an LMS is just part of online teaching, but have you considered how that space feels? What about the emotions or reactions it elicits?
What comes to mind as you think about the space of the LMS? Perhaps you picture announcements, modules, assignment folders, and icons. For now, take a moment to check in with yourself. How do those details impact teaching and learning? What reactions do you have when you see an empty course shell? Panic about what you’ll have to create? Excitement about the blank canvas and possibilities? How about when you see the interface of a new LMS that you’ve never used before? Are those reactions different than the ones you experience when you are teaching a course that has been built with attention to every detail?
Notice how your emotions, perhaps, changed as you thought about each of those spaces. And just like the learning sciences that influence physical classroom designs, online courses are also often the result of evidence-based practices, cognition and retention studies, and massive amounts of data showing student behaviors and responses to how the content is delivered.
Also like the physical classroom, sometimes there’s not too much we can change. But even if we can’t make changes to the content, it’s our presence that sets the tone of the course. If you are teaching in one of our fully-developed courses, what will you do to make it your own? How will your presence support teaching and learning in the virtual space?
While you contemplate some of these questions, know that we’re here to support you every step (or click!) of the way. To get started, we’ve curated a few resources that offer both valuable insights for those who are new to online teaching and fresh ideas for our more experienced online faculty.
Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2017). Distance learning compass: Distance education enrollment report. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/digtiallearningcompassenrollment2017.pdf
Moore, J. C., & Fetzner, M. J. (2009). The road to retention: A closer look at institutions that achieve High course completion rates. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(3), 3–22. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v13i3.1650
Muljana, P. S., & Luo, T. (2019). Factors contributing to student retention in online learning and recommended strategies for improvement: A systematic literature review. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 18, 19–57. https://doi.org/10.28945/4182
Rhode, J., Richter, S., & Miller, T. (2017). Designing personalized online teaching professional development through self-assessment. TechTrends, 61(5), 444–451. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0211-3