Behaviors & Strategies

for Improving

Online Instructor Presence

by Michelle Pacansky-Brock

Establishing a connection with online learners is a demonstrated strategy for increasing student motivation in online classes (Jones, Kolloff & Kolloff, 2008) and a marker of instructor excellence (Palloff & Pratt, 2011). Employing the the behaviors and strategies noted below is an effective step towards making your online students' learning more relevant and increasing their investment in your class (DuCharme-Hansen, Dupin-Bryant, 2005).

For a list of helpful tools for humanizing your online course, check out:

The Humanized Tool Buffet


  • Set clear expectations and be consistent throughout your course.
  • Be present in the course in some way 3-4 times each week.
  • Encourage questions.
  • Model the behaviors you expect students to exhibit.
  • Refer to students by name when possible.
  • Admit when you make a mistake. It will make you more real and students appreciate that!
  • Don't try to be perfect. Students appreciate instructors they can relate to.
  • Give regular feedback on assignments. If it is a group activity, defer to email when sensitive or firm guidance is necessary. Group feedback should be benefit all learners.
  • Share your stories. Let your passion for what you do come through in your online class.
  • Represent the most important information in multiple ways: text, image, and video. This is Universal Design for Learning and it supports the way more people learn.
  • Be clear about how you wish to be contacted and how quickly you will respond. Have this included in your syllabus as your "instructor communication policy."
  • Track student log-ins using the Student Performance Dashboard. Contact students through email who appear to be struggling or are not logging in.
  • Reach out to students by phone who you seem to have disappeared.


  • When you make a change to the course, notify students by making an announcement.
  • Give students to option to receive notifications from you via text (try Remind ).
  • Change the course homepage frequently.
  • Embed an image from the web in your written announcements.
  • Create image-rich presentations with HaikuDeck like this one. You may download a Haiku Deck to PowerPoint, save it as a PDF and upload it into VoiceThread to turn it into a rich, conversation in voice and video with VoiceThread.
  • Upload your syllabus into VoiceThread and share a humanized overview of important points on each page. VoiceThread provides the ability to annotate your content using your mouse. Consider this a substitute for how you would present your syllabus to your face-to-face students (rather than reading it to them entirely -- of course, they can do that!).
  • Create a 5-minute video to introduce yourself to your new students. Consider recording it in a favorite setting (using a mobile device with an YouTube Capture) to personalize it.
  • Mix an upbeat welcome video or course bumper with text, images, and webcam clips using Animoto.
  • Create a course design tutorial video to orient students to the navigation of your course in week one. This can be done with Camtasia, Screenflow, or a free tool like Screencast-o-matic or Screenr.
  • Record a 3-5 minute video to introduce each new learning module. Avoid referencing dates and focus on tying content back to the past unit and introducing the new content.
  • Embed a 3-5 minute video of yourself sharing a story that personalizes content your students are learning about.
  • Provide feedback in video or voice (try Jing or VoiceThread) to make your message more meaningful and reduce the chance of it being misunderstood (Ice, Curtis, Phillips & Wells, 2007).
  • Include captions or transcripts alongside videos that you intend to use more than one time in a course. This makes the video accessible in accordance with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and also makes your video accessible by more learners. Start with a script and paste it into EasyPrompter to turn your computer into a teleprompter!

*Grades and exam scores should only be shared with the student of record to comply with FERPA. In online classes, these records should only be communicated in the secure environment of the Blackboard Grade Center.
Course materials, including online videos and audio, must be accessible to the students enrolled in your course. YouTube provides an online captioning tool and captions are transferred when videos are embedded into the LMS.


David, A. & Glore, P. (2010). The impact of design and aesthetics on usability, credibility, and learning in an online environment. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 13(4),

DuCharme-Hanson, R. & Dupin-Bryant, P. (2005). Course planning for online adult learners.TechTrends, March/April, 49(2), p. 31-39.

Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P, & Well, J. (2007). Using asyncrhonous audio feedback to enhance teaching presence and students' sense of community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25. Retrieved from:’-sense-community  

Jones, P., Kolloff, M., & Kolloff, F. (2008). Students’ perspectives on humanizing and establishing teacher presence in an online course. In K. McFerrin et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference, 2008, (pp. 460-465). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2011). The Excellent Online Instructor: Strategies for Professional Development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Ragan, L. (2007, August 27). Best Practices in Online Teaching. Retrieved from the Connexions Web site:

Welcoming students in an online class. (2011).

Image Credits

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Behaviors & Strategies for Improving Instructor Presence in Online Classes by Michelle Pacansky-Brock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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