Faculty Presence and Student Expectations in Online Learning

Post by: Jennifer Campbell, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Music Education and participant in the Learning Community on Online Teaching & Learning

“But how do I get a good grade?”

Every instructor has been asked this question by a student, and to boil it down to a single word answer, hopefully we can agree upon, “expectations.” Students are asked to meet certain expectations and the results of meeting those expectations (although we all hope lasting knowledge is garnered beyond the letter) impact the outcome. Students, too, have expectations of their instructors and we should spend time considering how those expectations impact a course.

Now, include the addition of various synchronous and asynchronous options in online learning, as well as the full continuum of hybrid courses that are a given for the Learning Community for Online Teaching and Learning (LC:OTL) and a second topic arises: faculty presence. The discussion of these topics and a variety of wonderful tangents were the focus of our gathering this month.

Our discussion was guided by Lily Shafer-Lahnum from Online Learning Services. We were informed by reading and watching content on the two topics (5 Criteria to Retain the Faculty Voice in Quality Online Programs, Working for the Online Crowd: Humor and Teaching with Tech, Personality Goes a Long Way) and our personal experience as instructors. I have created an asynchronous summary of the group’s thoughts about both topics and two main tangents that I discovered while reviewing my notes.

Student Expectations of Instructors:

  1. Clarity: Students want to know what we want from them, what the course will ask of them.
  2. Is the textbook required?
  3. Timeframe/Assessments: Students want to know how the course will unfold. They want to know when assignments are due. No surprises.
  4. Consistency: Students want stability.
  5. Fast responses to queries. Sometimes students seem to want 24/7 access to the instructor in an online course. Students want to know when the instructor is available.

Suggestions from other instructors:

Dr. Elizabeth Yanoff, Associate Professor of Education, shared that she asks her students what they expect from the course and from her as their instructor. I suggested creating an FAQ page of the questions you know are going to be asked by students, perhaps within your syllabus or as a supplemental document. Check-ins with students frequently, and sometimes anonymously, to see how the course is going were suggested by Dr. Sheila Flihan, Professor of Education.

Many graduate students expect to continue their careers during coursework. Allowing graduate students to decide when and how they participate in lecture is a current project for Dr. John Dion, Assistant Professor of Marketing. Students are allowed to participate in lecture components of his hybrid course as in-class students, synchronous online students, or asynchronous online students. Further, students can select how they participate each week, allowing a student who was traveling for work and attended Week 1 online to come to campus for Week 2.

Faculty Presence:

Specific to online and hybrid learning situations is a need to create faculty presence. Suggestions from instructors:

  1. Using your face and your voice help to humanize your online content. *This idea was not specifically stated, but many hybrid/online instructors mentioned video as part of their classroom space. Suggestions included: discussion board summaries videos, check-in videos, video/voice feedback on assessments, and short content videos.
  2. Humor helps!
  3. Support students’ needs as they arise. Feedback in all forms help to make the instructor present in the course. When faced with students who needed support with time management, Dr. Jennifer Marlow, Assistant Professor of English suggested creating a “weekly workflow,” to help scaffold the online course experience.
  4. Balance being an instructor who understands that you students have individual needs and situations with course expectations.

TANGENT 1: How do we help define hybrid and online courses to students?

There are so many interpretations of hybrid. We need to create a list of definitions to support instructors and students in understanding this term. Instructors need to consider the whys behind selecting how a hybrid course functions. We need to be deliberate about when and why and what we offer as an online or hybrid course. We need to ensure that students have opportunities for classroom traditional experiences.

TANGENT 2: Student experience and needs.

What students should take an online or hybrid course over a traditional brick and
mortar experience? Which students will be successful in an online or hybrid course?

  1. Online only courses will require more student independent learning.
  2. Hybrid courses vary greatly in format.
  3. Some online/hybrids are J-term options for completing coursework. J-term impacts Spring semester load.
  4. Some students in summer online courses need the course for degree completion.
  5. Students outside of the College of Saint Rose system are taking online courses.
  6. Students need to be engaged. How can we apply Engagement Theory to online and hybrid courses?
  7. Students need to be monitored, courses need to support students as individuals and as a group taking the course.
  8. Some students need/prefer traditional classrooms to support their learning.
  9. Students and instructors need access to a different kind of course evaluation.

So many topics discussed, but always the same refrain.

Although our conversation traversed a host of areas that were not on the agenda, as a group we kept rearticulating that it comes down to the human qualities of the instructor. Multiple instructors shared that their former students often raise up a personal connection with faculty as an integral aspect of their college experience. The question then becomes how do we ensure that the transfer of a quality student-faculty relationship to online and hybrid courses?