Maintaining Presence in an Online Classroom

Jeremy Pilarsky, Purdue University Global Composition Professor

The term presence sometimes appears in teacher observations and evaluations when assessing a classroom environment. Presence, in pedagogy, means the instructor projects an aura conducive to learning in the classroom.  Truthfully, an evaluator noticing strong instructor presence can be one of the most complimentary attributes adorning the comments section.  Whether the instructor injects singular wit in a lecture or silences a room with penetrating insight, students feel more invested in a class triggering a positive emotional response even if the material departs from their own philosophies.   Yet, presently, online instructors, unlike their face-to-face, student-to-student colleagues, have a harder time creating and maintaining the same presence. Still, despite the tactile limitations imposed on cyber-educators, they can create a comparable atmosphere promoting interactive learning by attending professional development activities, sharing ideas with colleagues, and using outside computer programs to personalize their classrooms.

E-instructors should take advantage of professional development activities offered both in and outside their institutions.  At Purdue University Global (Purdue Global), instructors practice pedagogical concepts in CTL trainings.  Also, the university offers a strong community of educators willing to share ideas with other faculty.  Active participation in professional development helps faculty hone their online teaching abilities.  According to Jason Neben (2014), “Since faculty are the direct connection to students, it is crucial to understand their perceptions when considering any major change to teaching and learning processes” (p.43). Complying with the professional development requirements from faculty expectations help instructors transition from a moderator role into an active educator, implementing new ideas from external scholarship and their colleagues’ presentations.

Insight from other faculty inspires new approaches to the online classroom.  For example, two recent, notable presentations discussed peer reviews and digital technology in the classroom.  The peer review group provided tips on easing stress students’ experience when sharing drafts.  Students at Purdue Global, many who are first-generation college students, feel unaccustomed to issuing critical feedback on each others’ essays.   The responses often amount to praise, and any criticism issued involves APA formatting or grammatical errors.  Although APA and grammar represent important parts in many other courses, for composition instructors the goal is for students to attempt holistic feedback, focusing on the issues students write about rather than the diction and punctuation of the prose.  The instructors in this presentation suggested adding to the expectations by communicating to students specific examples of peer- reviewed comments and posting them in Doc Sharing or in the discussion board.

Purdue Global courses make available examples students can view in the Unit Overviews; however, having a personalized example from their professor makes an impression on students, signifying to them that their instructor takes an interest in helping students expand their conceptions, so they can get a better understanding of the assignment.  This gesture resembles the instructor providing extra help in a real class, projecting a presence just as authentic as one found in a traditional ground course.  In addition to peer review or handout examples, faculty can upload videos highlighting key takeaways from each lesson.

A second presentation from Purdue Global’s Educators’ Exchange proposed using videos created using Jing, Prezi, PowerDirector, Audacity, or Camstudio as lesson supplements.  Faculty have the ability to upload video from their hard drives or embed code from their own websites.  Videos combine sound with images, allowing students to see and hear their professors in digitized action.  Students who can actually see and hear their professors have a better chance of bridging the asynchronous gap.  Using these technologies, professors may be able to promote an environment of discovery, inspiring critical thinking in the discussions and chats.  Like online professor Frederick A. Ricci (2013) writes, “The ideal online classes provide challenging experiences through assignments and exercises, which should create new visions.  Assisting students to develop critical thinking skills presents them with the desire to go beyond the content knowledge of their online courses” (p.1).   Considering Ricci’s philosophy, the online professor’s presence can affect the success students have transitioning through the lessons, mastering the material, and retaining skills used in other classes and in real life.

Surely, the ideas discussed here overlook other methods instructors can attempt emanating an aura relevant to the academic ambiance expected in a college course.  Other ideas can be found through the various professional development activities offered at Purdue Global .   Educator Exchanges and e-conferences represent some of the most helpful.  With online education expanding in attendance, it is important that instructors inject their own personalities, creativity, and insight into their courses.  By sharing ideas and attending conferences, faculty can expand upon their courses, enriching them with compelling lessons and encouraging critical thinking among their students.   The extra effort faculty put in their courses goes a long way in creating presence.


Online Education



Neben, J. (2014). Attributes and barriers impacting diffusion of online courses at the institutional level: Considering faculty perceptions.  Distance Learning, 11(1), 41-50.  Retrieved from

Ricci, F.A. (2013).  Encouraging critical thinking in distance learning: Ensuring challenging intellectual programs.  Distance Learning, 10 (1), 1-15.  Available from




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