Important Instructor Behaviors in Online Courses #fsi2014 (Notes)

These are my notes from the session “Important Instructor Behaviors in Online Courses” presented at FSI 2014 by Kathleen Sheridan and Catherine Main.

  • Teaching presence defined
    • Instructor’s interaction and communication style and frequency of input (Kassinger 2004)
    • Regular discussion postings, timely responses, and modeling communciation and interactions (Palloff & Pratt, 2003)
    • Design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social presences
  • Impact of teaching presence
    • Important to student success
    • Impacted learning outcomes
    • Lessened serial monologues (discussions where there aren’t real interaction)
    • Strong predictor of cognitive presence
  • Cross-sectional survey research with open and closed items (included graduate & undergraduate students from 2 different universities in different departments and fields of study)
    • Items based on review of literature on instructor impact and social impact (from Community of Inquiry model) + items that they felt were missing from the literature
  • Top behaviors rated important
    • Clearly communicated due dates
    • Sets clear expectations
    • Clearly communicated goals
    • Makes course requirements clear
    • Clearly communicates important topics
    • Creates a course that is engaging
    • Follows through on promises
    • Provides clear instructions for assignments
    • Provides interesting material
    • Provides grading rubrics
    • Provides timely feedback
    • Keeps the calendar updated
  • Least important behaviors (important, but not rated highly)
    • Create chapter quizzes
    • Engages in “real time”
    • Participate daily in discussions
    • Uses icebreakers
    • Provide a video that introduces the instructor
    • Has a personal website
    • Provides weekly lectures
    • Participate weekly in discussions
    • Gives me a sense of community
    • Reply to each individual post
    • Positive feedback and comments
    • Guides the student discussions
  • Highest-Frequency Indicators (from open-ended questions about the top 5 indicators)
    • Communication
    • Instructor Disposition – not traditionally in the teaching-presence literature, but ranked #2 by both ugrad & grad populations (e.g. has a sense of humor, understands I have a life, is fair, cares about me)
    • Materials
    • Clarity
    • Feedback
    • Facilitation
    • Discussion participation
    • Course structure & navigation
    • Availability
    • Sends reminders
  • Conclusions
    • Role of establishing community was not explicitly stated as important by students (but some aspects of this are implicit in what they do find important)
      • Possible that these become more important as top needs are met (e.g. for clarity and support)
      • Possible that students value but not sure how to express (they want community and to feel connected but don’t know how to ask for that)
    • Role of instructor attributes within construct of teaching presence (Teacher present vs. teacher presence)
    • Important: Communication, clarity, responsiveness, materials, course navigation
    • Not so important: synchronous chats, f2f communication, availability by phone, ability to see and hear instructor, instructor website


Qualities that characterize a person as an individual (Usher, Usher, Usher, 2003)

  • Empathy
  • Positive view of self
  • Positive view of others
  • Authenticity
  • Meaningful purpose & vision

Operationalize in the Online Classroom

If students an “feel us” in the classroom and our dispositions are important to student success, how do we make sure we are demonstrating these key dispositions? Being there isn’t the same as being present. Establish high presence early (first half of the course), then fade the support


  • Write each student a personal note at least once
  • Mention what you notice, admire, and appreciate about them
  • Mention something they said in a discussion that was positive
  • Notice when they are not there and contact them
  • Be “very” present at the start
  • Respond within 24-48 hours
  • Do what you say you will do
  • Participate in discussions or don’t assign them
    • Make connections between students instead of providing answers
    • Ask further questions
    • Three types of feedback: corrective, extending (connecting), pushing to next level
  • Give personal examples when teaching
  • Be flexible with adult students (understand that students have other obligations)
    • Run the course Wed-Wed to give time around weekends
    • Avoid required synchronous
    • Fewer concrete deadlines
    • Set guidelines for extensions & grading adjustments/penalties
    • Open modules for early access & leave open after
  • The tone of your communication matters!



2 thoughts on “Important Instructor Behaviors in Online Courses #fsi2014 (Notes)

    • Tom – They were careful to point out that the “least important” behaviors were still rated above the middle of the scale, so they were still considered important but not AS important as some of the others. Also, there was some speculation in the room about whether they would become more important if the basic needs, such as clear instructions and schedules, were met. It almost seemed to reflect a nervousness on the part of the students about succeeding. It was an interesting session, and I look forward to hearing more from them!

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