Unit 2 Lecture: Design & Organization in Teaching Presence


Design and organization are an element of Teaching Presence that has been highly rated by studies measuring learner engagement and activities (Martin, Bolliger, 2018). Elements of the design and organization dimension necessary for a well-constructed course, according to Garrison (2017), include adaptability, student responsibility, and consideration of macro design components such as setting clear goals and structuring activities. Other important elements that fall under this dimension are establishing a safe environment for students to honestly inquire and build knowledge, planning activities that will promote a guided and balanced line of inquiry, and well-planned assessments. Another important element of this dimension that is not particularly emphasized in the Garrison chapter is the tasks surrounding organization such as outside e-mail, announcements, and other teacher communications that exist outside of the discussion board (Hayes, Shea, Vickers, 2010 p. 129). Good design and communication are ways to guide learners to put in the effort needed for substantial cognitive presence.

What's Involved?

In their instructional design framework for fostering learner engagement in online learning settings, Czerkawski and Lyman show 4 interrelated components important to designing engaging learning. Those components are: analyzing instructional needs, defining instructional objectives, forming learning environments, and assessing learning outcomes. As you can see in the graphic to the left, these components feed each other and are linked by feedback. As you can see, this is a cyclical process in which needs, goals, activities and assessment are being consistently defined, managed and re-assessed. For your teaching practice, these elements as well as their relationships to each other should be kept in mind during the entire life cycle of a course.

Also critical to a good online course is laying the foundation for an interactive community with the correct balance of academic professionalism and comfort to pursue higher thinking and challenge previously held notions. Laying the appropriate groundwork on which a group of learners might build a community of inquiry is an important element of design that falls under teaching presence. “Learning, as signified by the process of LPP or identity formation, takes place within the CoP inevitably. In the context of online learning, if a CoP exists, we would expect similar patterns of engagement and learning to occur. However, in the online environment, a CoP may not form naturally and therefore needs to be artificially cultivated by design. As discussed earlier, a learning design does not have the capacity to orchestrate the learning experience or formation community but can create an environment conducive to its formation.” (Jan, Vlachopoulos, 2018 p. 11)

So what does that mean for me?

Instructor tasks that fall in the design & organization dimension of teaching presence include establishing learning objectives, aligning the design to the content and delivery approach, building social presence and a sense of community, and communicating rules for netiquette (Martin, Budhrani, Ritzhaupt, 2019). While planning your course, you have to keep each presence (social, teaching, cognitive) in mind to make sure your course will engage students on each of these levels. Since your course is online only, you don’t have the benefit of reading facial expressions and physically checking up on your students. You’ll want to make sure that you proactively address potential student concerns by including multiple contact methods, diverse content types (i.e. videos, web-based tools, etc), and a variety of course components to engage learners in addition to discussion boards. The goal is to minimize potential barriers and provide the opportunity to connect with the content to all students regardless of their specific strengths (Chen, Bastedo, Howard, 2018).

What you should also consider is how you will communicate your plan to the learners. Grant & Thornton (2007, pp. 351-352) mention the course syllabus as a vehicle to communicate high expectations, as well as clarification of expectations via modeling expected behaviors and providing detailed feedback on student successes and areas for improvement. Other way to communicate high expectations include regular announcements from the instructor, formative assessments, and provision of grading rubrics (Martin, Bolliger, 2018). As you can see from the graphic, constant feedback is critical to engagement in online learning environments.

In addition to the above lecture, I invite you to watch these helpful videos with specific tips on how to build an effective online course:


Questions for thought:

What similarities do you see between these principles and those you would use to design a face-to-face course? What differences?


What’s next?

In the next unit, we will the other instructor roles you will inhabit throughout the life cycle of your course, including facilitator and course manager. Consider the impact that your role of designer will have upon your future roles.

Return: Unit 2: Designing Instruction for Optimal Engagement

NOTE: You will find citations for this lecture on the Driving Learner Engagement in an Online Environment References and Resources page.