Study Guide for Unit 1: Understanding Instructor Presence and Online Community


Anderson, Rourke, Garrison and Archer (2001) define teaching presence as “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (p.5). Anderson, et al. (2001) posit that teaching presence encompasses instructional design, course facilitation and direct instruction.

Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) describe teaching presence as “the binding element in creating a community of inquiry for educational purposes” (p.96). In an online learning environment, Garrison et al. (2000) define the role of teaching presence to include regulating the amount of content included in a course, moderating online discussions, creating groups, and making effective use of communication tools.

Oyarzun, Barreto and Conklin (2018) suggest that through the establishment of teaching presence an instructor employs instructional techniques and strategies to create a quality online experience for students. This online experience favors interaction with the content, the instructor and the students over the technology that is required to deliver the online experience.

Perhaps more simply stated, teaching presence can be defined as “being there” in terms of communicating with, interacting with and guiding students (Lowenthal, 2015 as cited in Oyarzun et al., 2018). Larry Ragan of the Penn State World Campus considers instructor presence to be multi-dimensional. It takes into account the persona of the instructor, his or her social presence that includes the connections the instructor makes with students, and the connections students make with one another that support the development of a community, and his or her instructional presence (Kelly, 2014). When considering the nature of online learning and the absence of a both a physical space, and an instructor who is physically present, the whole notion of instructor presence takes on a significant role in helping to connect students to the institution, and to help them avoid feeling isolated (Kelly, 2014).

From the student perspective, students place high value on the instructors who set clear course expectations, and who are responsive to student needs. This includes being timely in the delivery of course information and feedback (Sheridan and Kelly, 2010). Further, an emphasis needs to be placed on the facilitation of the course to include actively engaging with students. One way instructors can actively engage with students is by setting up different ways to communicate with them such as setting up a discussion forum to answer general questions about the course, and scheduling online office hours using an online meeting tool such as Skype or Zoom. It is also important for the instructor to know their learners. Learners who are new to online learning may need a higher level of support and interaction from their instructor to support their success than more experienced online learners (Martin, Wang & Sadaf, 2018).

In terms of developing community, Shea, Li, & Pickett (2006) argue that by developing and sustaining an active teaching presence, instructors support the development of community in online courses. Through “effective design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes” (p.177) instructors can create collaborative opportunities that contribute to a “sense of connectedness and active learning” (p.177) both of which are fundamental to the development of community.

As you navigate Unit 1 of this course, consider the following questions:

What do you want students to know about you as an instructor and a person, and how will you convey this information to your students?

Further, consider how you will infuse “you” into the course.

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Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D.R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2).

Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 11(2), 87-105.

Kelly, R. (2014, January 7). Creating a sense of instructor presence in the online classroom. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from

Lowenthal, P.R. (2015). A mixed methods examination of instructor social presence in accelerated online courses. Handbook of Research on Strategic Management of Interaction, Presence, and Participation in Online Courses, 147.

Martin, F., Wang, C., & Sadaf, A. (2018). Student perception of helpfulness of facilitation strategies that enhance instructor presence, connectedness, engagement and learning in online courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 37, 52-65.

Oyarzun, B., Barreto, D., & Conklin, S. (2018). Instructor social presence effects on learner social presence, achievement, and satisfaction. TechTrends, 62, 625-634.

Shea, P., Li, C.S., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 9, 175-190.

Sheridan, K. & Kelly, M.A. (2010). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 1-11.