Students report that they feel somewhat disconnected from a course when they take a course online or when Web-supported instruction replaces the face-to-face class meetings. The challenge in designing Web-supported courses in any discipline is for instructors to establish their “teaching presence” with their students.
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In this article, we will use the community of inquiry model developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) to examine the attributes of teaching presence in a Web-supported course. (Please see the References section at the end of this article.) We evaluated student perceptions relating to the significance of producing an introductory video to introduce the instructor to students in both a fully online course and a hybrid course. From the results of this study, we concluded that introductory videos could help to establish the instructor’s teaching presence with the students, regardless of the method of delivery of the course.
Delivery modes of instruction
There are three categories of delivery modes of instruction: 1) traditional (face-to-face); 2) fully online; and 3) hybrid courses.
Traditional classes, by design, focus on a number of instructional methods, including lecture, in-class activities, and face-to-face discussions. Learning takes place in a synchronous environment, and provides opportunities for community building (socialization). The traditional classroom setting offers an advantage of immediate, face-to-face interaction between the student and educator, as well as between fellow classmates.
Fully online courses typically most often appear in an asynchronous mode. However, with current technology, such as Adobe Connect where students and instructors can meet “face-to-face” online in real time, this aspect is quickly changing. In asynchronous online learning, students can access the online materials at any time, while synchronous online learning allows for real-time interaction between students and the instructor. Regardless of whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous, online learning environments transcend the need for the "real" classroom. These types of online environments allow students to operate in a virtual classroom using a Web site, or course management system, at a place and time that is more convenient or accessible for them.
Finally, the hybrid classroom incorporates characteristics of both traditional and online classroom settings. Hybrid courses are courses in which a significant portion of the learning activities takes place online, reducing, but not eliminating, time traditionally spent in the classroom (Garnham and Kaleta, 2002). Students receive the benefit of face-to-face interaction with faculty and students, while at the same time having the advantage of Web-based learning paradigms such as virtual real-time information, maps, pictures, streaming video, and audio clips (Black, 2001).
Many things change when instruction and communication move from a traditional (face-to-face) classroom setting into a Web-supported course delivery system. Some faculty may find it difficult, if not impossible, to provide an online classroom experience similar to a typical face-to-face class. Faculty members can find it difficult to establish an instructional relationship with students through an online environment. Online learning is more solitary, and students report that they feel somewhat disconnected from the class when they take a course online (Rowntree, 2000). Because of the reduced "human contact" element of teaching in an online instructional environment, some skeptics discount the possibility that Web-supported learning can be as effective as the traditional method of information delivery (Benson, 2001).
When considering moving a traditional course to a Web-supported course, regardless if it is a fully online course or a hybrid course, it is important to establish means of communication with learners that are proven effective, and to allow students to familiarize themselves with the course structure and the technology that will be used throughout the learning process. The keys to success are analyzing course material and determining how well existing material will translate online, creating new approaches to communicating with students, and evaluating and rebuilding the course as problems arise (Black, 2001).
At the same time, Anderson states that:
…online learning will enhance the critical function of interaction in education in multiple formats and styles among all the participants. These interactions will be supported by autonomous agents working on behalf of all participants. The task of the online course designer and teacher is to choose, adapt, and perfect (through feedback, assessment, and reflection) educational activities that maximize the affordances of the Web. In doing so, they create learning-, knowledge-, assessment-, and community-centered educational experiences that result in high levels of learning by all participants” (2004).
It is very important for faculty to establish an instructional relationship with students early in the Web-based course. One method that is helpful in building an online instructional relationship is to establish “teacher presence” within the Web-supported course.
The primary purpose of this study is to compare student perceptions regarding the use of a streamed introductory video in a hybrid course, versus their perceptions of the same for a fully online course. This study will address the questions: Are streamed introductory videos useful to students in establishing instructor’s presence in a hybrid course? Are such videos useful to students in establishing instructor's presence in an online course? How do the students' perceptions compare between the two modes of delivery? Do students in either type of delivery mode (fully online or hybrid) find the information presented in the introductory video to be useful in their learning process?
We begin by reviewing previous investigations into these and similar questions.
The very origin of online instruction builds upon technology-mediated learning. The challenge in planning and designing online courses is in humanizing the online learning experience. Humanizing the online learning environment increases the student’s comfort level, and reduces the psychological distance between the instructors and students (DuCharme-Hansen, Dupin-Bryant, 2005). Humanizing is the action of providing immediacy behaviors, and creating a situation or environment that is people-focused and that will help to increase learners’ investment in the process (DuCharme-Hansen, Dupin-Bryant). Instructor immediacy is a theory of affective learning based on the concept of instructor verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are related to student attitudes and instructional outcomes (Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney, 1996). Immediacy also relates to course design, or how a teacher deliberately arranges a set of external events to support the learner’s internal learning process. In 2001, Swan reported that students felt they had increased interaction with the instructor when they had interacted with the course, regardless if they had direct access to the instructor, be it a real contact or a virtual contact.
Other research found that instructor immediacy behaviors create a positive affect toward the instructor and the subject matter, and that these behaviors are positive predictors of student learning and satisfaction in distance education courses (Rodriguez, et al. 1996). Therefore, it is important to plan and design immediacy behaviors for online learning environments. This would include encouraging future contact with students, encouraging and explaining methods of online discussions, sharing examples, demonstrating vocal expressiveness, and open gestures and body movement by the instructor. Video components planned for the online course can deliver all of these behaviors. Instructors who use instructor immediacy behaviors appreciate or value the learning task, and research has found that this enhances cognitive learning (Hutchins, 2003). This can be especially true when instructors are trying to establish their teaching presence for the class.
The definition of teaching presence is “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educational worthwhile learning outcomes” (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, Archer, 2000). The instructor usually begins to establish a personal teaching presence in the first class meeting. Students form opinions and make assumptions about the instructor, and the organization of the course, from the first meeting.
According to Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer, establishing teaching presence involves three roles: 1) course design and organization, 2) dialogue facilitation, and 3) direct instruction in text-based computer conferencing environments. These roles will take place both before the establishment of the learning community as well as during its operation. The design process provides instructors opportunities to instill their own teaching presence by establishing a personalized tone within the course content. They do this through organization of the course components, through use of visual and audio instructional components, and by allowing students, through the planned instructional components and organization of the course, to see the personal enthusiasm and interests that inspire the teacher’s attraction to the subject. The second role is for the instructor to develop and implement activities to encourage communications between students, dialogue between the teacher and the student, and active participation of the students with the content. The third role expresses itself when the instructor adds subject matter expertise through a variety of forms of direct instruction. In these three roles, the instructor will set the foundations of the personal teaching presence in the first class meeting.
The instructor usually strives to establish these three roles involved in creating teaching presence throughout the course, but the standard of community of inquiry (see Figure 1) that integrates cognitive, social, and teaching elements that go beyond social exchanges begins in the first class meeting. Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) have developed a conceptual model of online learning that we refer to as the “community of inquiry” model,
This model postulates that deep and meaningful learning results when there are sufficient levels of three component “presences.” The first is a sufficient degree of cognitive presence, such that serious learning can take place in an environment that supports the development and growth of critical thinking skills. Cognitive presence is grounded in and defined by study of a particular content; thus, it works within the epistemological, cultural, and social expression of the content in an approach that supports the development of critical thinking skills. The second, social presence, relates to the establishment of a supportive environment such that students feel the necessary degree of comfort and safety to express their ideas in a collaborative context. The absence of social presence leads to an inability to express disagreements, share viewpoints, explore differences, and accept support and confirmation from peers and teacher. Finally, in formal education, as opposed to informal learning opportunities, teaching presence is critical for a variety of reasons.
Cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence are all important preconditions in helping the learner to feel comfortable in the learning environment. Garrison and Cleveland-Innes concluded that teaching presence is vitally important for the creation and sustainability of a community of inquiry focused on the exploration, integration, and testing of concepts and solutions (2005).
Creating or establishing teaching presence in an online course is very important to the learners. One possible way to aid in establishing teaching presence in an online course is to write, develop, and produce an introductory video for an online course. Therefore, the primary question for this study is: 1) From the students’ perspective, will a streamed, introductory video help to establish teaching presence in an online course. In addition, the secondary questions would include: 2) Will students perceive the introductory video as worthwhile and credible? 3) Did the students report that meeting the instructor was important to their online learning experience? 4) Did the students find that the video scripts were helpful to them in accessing the video content as well as getting to know the instructor? 5) What type of instructional products would the students like to see more of in this course?