Exploring presence online…in Traverse City

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching and Learning held in Traverse City, Michigan. Founded in 1981 at Miami University, the Lilly Conferences have grown into a series of five different conferences held annually across the United States. Each conference offers faculty the opportunity to discuss issues of teaching and learning in a community environment.

Grand Valley was well-represented at this year’s conference with nine different individuals showing posters, facilitating roundtables, or giving presentations. Topics ranged from community-based learning and preservice teacher education to success with group projects and surviving the experience of teaching online.

Entitled “Expertise as Teaching Presence: Online Tools for Interactive Learning Experiences”, my presentation drew upon my experiences as both an instructional designer and adjunct professor in Political Science. In our Foundations of Online/Hybrid Course Development workshop we introduce faculty to the idea of the “Community of Inquiry.” This model helps future hybrid and online faculty focus on what it takes to deliver high quality educational experiences.

One important ingredient is known as “instructor presence.” Research shows that learners benefit when their instructors are involved in their courses in a visible, immediate, and interactive manner. This “presence” can be found in the ways that faculty design their course, deliver content, and interact with students through feedback on assessments.

At the Lilly Conference, I sought to expand on instructor presence by discussing the instructor’s role as subject matter expert. Learners benefit dramatically when their instructors can develop learning experiences that bridge the gap between how experts and novice learners see a given field of knowledge. When faculty don’t meet their students face-to-face on a regular basis—as in an online class—it can be difficult to build those bridges. Common instructional techniques like streaming video can only help so much.

Using examples from my online course about the American Constitution, I demonstrated the use of two free and easy-to-use tools that help faculty create interactive learning experiences. Activities built using Oppia and Twine can engage learners in the type of back and forth exchange that’s easy to have in the classroom but harder to recreate online. The usefulness of such tools, though, rests on faculty identifying common misunderstandings and misperceptions within their field and delivering targeted feedback that purposefully scaffolds the learner’s knowledge and understanding over time.

Slides, links, and a bibliography from my presentation can be found at http://ipsative.com/presentations/lillytc/2017/expertise/

(Photo credit: Lilly Conferences Facebook page)

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