I'll start with this contention: online presence — both instructor presence and student presence — is the single most important element in online course design. I know that is true for my courses... and I would be curious to know what other online instructors think about that!
And here's a thought I recently had: the current obsession with talking-head video is an attempt — a badly misguided attempt — to create online presence. Video, of course, is just content, and not even a particularly robust form of content for all kinds of reasons (more on that topic). A talking head video is NOT online presence.
So, while I've taken several MOOCs that included video, even abundant video, by the instructor, those videos did nothing to make the instructor seem really present. The latest Janux course I tried, for example, represents the most extreme case of that I have seen so far in the world of MOOCs: apparently the instructor listed for the course is not participating in any way at all, except insofar as they filmed her in some videos — last semester? last year? There's no telling. In any case, the videos are not new, which means they are not responsive to the class right now and not responsive to the students in that class.
Because that's what it's really about: online presence offers the responsiveness of a face-to-face encounter, while overcoming the F2F constraints of time and space. Online presence, unlike face-to-face, is asynchronous, persistent, re-usable, linkable, searchable, discoverable, all those Internet virtues... while also being directly responsive to a given class and the needs of the students in that class.
When I first started teaching online in 2002, there was only a very limited range of tools for developing online presence. Webpages (freestanding webpages, not blogs or wikis, etc.) were really about the only tool that I had available, but I published a lot of webpages... and my students did too! From the very semester that I taught online, student websites were the heart and soul of the class, and that continues to be true of my classes today.
Now, however, there is a whole wide range of tools available for creating an online presence ... more tools than I can even hope to take advantage of. So, for the remainder of this post, I will talk about some of the tools I am using this semester, all of which I am extremely happy with... some new, some old, ALL of them fun to use!
Daily Announcements Blog. This is probably the single most important focal point for my course-related web presence. There is a new announcement post every day (I queue them up a day or two in advance), with information about course assignments and activities, along with all kinds of other content just for fun and random discovery. I embed this blog page as the homepage for each of my courses in Desire2Learn, so there is something fresh there every day, no matter what day(s) of the week the students are logging in.
Class Twitter Feed. In addition to the daily announcements, throughout the day I am updating the Class Twitter Feed, so not only are there new things every day in the class announcements, there are new things throughout the day in the class Twitter feed. I am able to embed that feed in the Announcements blog, and the Twitter widget is highly responsive: you can tweet me from right there inside the widget.
Tagboard. For course-specific content, there are the #OU3043 and #OU4993 hashtags, and this allows students to contribute to the class feed also. Tagboard will be a really handy way to develop that shared hashtag presence: #OU3043 Tagboard and #OU4993 Tagboard. In Week 2 of the class, I am going to see if I can get students interested in trying this!
Pinterest Boards. This is my newest experiment. I got hooked on Pinterest last year for my own personal projects, and then I started seeing all kinds of ways in which I could use Pinterest for my classes too. So, the Pinterest Boards are another way that I am creating online presence and, as with Twitter, I am hoping this is something the students will join me in: Myth-Folklore Pinterest Portfolio and Indian Epics Pinterest Portfolio.
Now, those are the ways I create online presence related to my classes, which is in addition to the main ways in which I maintain an online presence, which is mostly at Google+ and in my non-class-related blogs, like the long-running Bestiaria. I also have a separate Twitter account, different from the class Twitter: I'm OnlineCrsLady.
Of these tools, Pinterest is the one that is the most new to me, so I still getting my "rhythm" with that one, but for the other tools - Announcements and Twitter - they are an automatic part of my daily routine, even more fundamental than email. My guess is that if faculty try to teach online with email and a learning management system as their only tools, they are probably not going to be able to create a highly dynamic and responsive online presence. Limited to email and an LMS, I would not be able to achieve my goals as a teacher online... but with tools like Blogger and Twitter, I believe I can create an online presence that is of greater and deeper value for my students than the ephemeral face-to-face conversation we would have for 150 minutes each week in a classroom.
So, those are my thoughts for today about online instructor presence. Next time, I will try to say something about student online presence, and hopefully I will have more to say about my Pinterest adventure too. Meanwhile, I've pasted in below screenshots of the Announcements, Twitter, Tagboard, and Pinterest just to give a quick visual impression of what they are like. They are pretty cool, very attention-getting!
Better than video...? I would say so.