“Being There” – Instructor Presence in Online Classes

One of the encouraging messages that emerges from research on online learning is that instructors matter.  In particular, students’ perceptions of your social presence in a course strongly correlates to perceptions of learning and instructor satisfaction (Richardson & Swan, 2003, Swan & Shih, 2005).  Social presence is the extent to which members of an online community perceive each other to be “real” and feel connected to one another (Cobb, 2009). Through intentional development of your social presence, you can help foster a sense of community in your online course, similar to what you accomplish in an on-site course.

Ways to Increase Social Presence in Your Online Courses 

  • Set the tone:

    • Model communication with your students that takes on a less formal, more conversational tone.
    • Address your students by name and share your own personal experiences.
  • Connect faces to names:

    • Consider posting a brief, introductory video of yourself, and ask your students to do the same (jing, snag-it, camtasia, screencast-o-matic).
    • Use students’ names in your communication.
  • Design Online Discussion Questions and Tasks to Elicit Personal Responses:

    • Ask your students to relate course content to their own relevant personal experiences.
    • Encourage authentic assessment by scaffolding assignments in which students relate coursework to their own lives.
    • Have the students share ideas and thoughts about content. Share yours, too.
  • Provide Video Feedback:

    • Quick videos (jing, snag-it, camtasia, screencast-o-matic) in which you point out the highlights of a students’ work and specify where they need to revise show that you care about that individual’s success.
  • Foster Community:

    • Construct discussions and activities to encourage students to collaborate, address the class as a community (using “we”), and acknowledge contributions to the group.
  • Most of all, Be Present:

    • Build relationships through regular interaction, including privately interacting with students
    • provide constructive and prompt feedback
    • encourage students’ knowledge building.

By intentionally monitoring how you project social presence, you can enhance the sense of community in your online course, encouraging your students to meaningfully contribute to the conversation and value the responses of their classmates — ultimately resulting in more engaged, and successful, learning.


Cobb, S. (2009). Social presence and online learning: A current view from a research perspective. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(3), 241-254.


Richardson, J. & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Online Learning Networks, 7(3), 68-88.

Swan, K., & Shih, L. F. (2005).  On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(3), 115–136.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Evan Kramer

Icebreaker: Find Someone Who . . . .

Three People Interacting

Icebreakers help us create a sense of community which is essential when we are going to collaborate with people.  In the classroom, especially in a foreign language class where students need to try to get their mouths to pronounce unfamiliar words and sounds, people need to know that they are in an environment where it is safe to take risks and make mistakes.  Using icebreakers at the beginning of a semester facilitates the process of getting to know one another; this one is a favorite in face-to-face classes.

This icebreaker is a game of BINGO.  It’s important to take a few moments before playing to make sure that everyone knows the rules of the game and understands how to play because not all of our students are from the United States and some might not be familiar with it.  Ask the class for a volunteer who can explain what the object of the game is and how you get a BINGO by having 5 answers vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.

It is easy to customize the BINGO with questions that relate to a specific discipline or instead use general questions that simply help students to get to know one another, as in the example below.

Remember:  When giving the instructions to students, emphasize that the game is an excuse to meet people; everyone is to get up and move about the classroom.  When they approach a classmate, each student should introduce him/herself and then ask the classmate a question. If the person responds positively, the asker should record his/her name and answer a question for that person in return. Again, it’s more about getting to know classmates than about winning the fabulous prize for getting a Bingo!  Also, for that reason, students can only use each classmate’s name for one square.

Demonstrate:  Do a few practice examples – either you can approach students and model the interaction you desire or you can ask students to model one or two examples.

Play:  Then, have your students begin the game.  They should approach a classmate, introduce themselves, ask a question, and if the person responds in the affirmative, write the person’s name and a detail or two in the appropriate box.  If someone gets four in a row, the student should say BINGO and then call back their answers as this step will allow students another opportunity to hear classmates’ names and learn a little bit about them.  If you have small prizes (pencils, bookmarks or candy, for example) to award to the winners, it adds to the fun.

BINGO Board:

Has studied at another college besides GCC

Has a child Has taken public transportation Has visited another country Plays a musical instrument

Plays on a sports team

Was born outside the United States

Exercises every day

Works while attending college

Has friends or relatives who speak another language

Takes more than three classes

Has visited both Niagara Falls USA and NF Canada


Commutes more than 30 minutes to study at GCC

Has the same major as you

Is the first in his/her family to attend college

Wears glasses to read

Has attended a concert during the past year

Speaks a language other than English

Has a pet

Likes pizza Has studied at GCC for more than 1 year Has taken classes in another community college Has completed an internship

Takes classes at more than one GCC campus center

Use this as a template to create your own board – edit away!

Download yours here: BINGO Board – Find Someone Who


Submitted by:

Jeanne Mullaney

Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures

Community College of Rhode Island


Edited By:

Judith Littlejohn, Genesee Community College, 8/19/2018

Image of three people interacting is “Conversation at Wikimania 2014” by Ragesoss, CCBY, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Conversation_at_Wikimania_2010_4.jpg

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This Teaching Tip is part of a series. Faculty and staff of SUNY Genesee Community College are encouraged to join the TLC Organization for more professional development opportunities. To request enrollment or suggest a topic, email tlc@genesee.edu

August 19, 2018, Judith M Littlejohn

First Day of Class

Room with tables and chairs

The first day of class is your opportunity to present your vision of the class to your students. It is helpful if you can introduce yourself as a scholar and educator and provide insight into how you will teach the class and what you will expect them to contribute to the learning process.

Consider that several of your students may be “shopping” for a schedule the first week of classes. They may be looking for a class that will fill a particular time slot, include a particular learning environment (i.e. lab-based or lecture style), or a class with a certain workload to balance the demands of their other courses and extra-curricular responsibilities. Thus, students will appreciate a clear roadmap of what you will require of them over the course of the semester. You may also want to model, as specifically as possible, the classroom environment you intend to foster during the class. For example, if they will spend a good deal of time doing group work over the course of the semester, you may want to break them into groups the first day.


How to Create an Inviting Classroom

Professors who established a special trust with their students often displayed the kind of openness in which they might, from time to time, talk about their intellectual journey, its ambitions, triumphs, frustrations, and failures, and encourage students to be similarly reflective and candid.

–From the chapter “How Do They Treat Their Students” in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard Press, 2004).

Introduce Yourself

The point of an introduction is to establish yourself as a unique individual sharing the classroom with other unique individuals. Other than providing your name and the name of the course you’re teaching, here is some information you may consider sharing:

  • Personal biography: your place of birth, family history, educational history, hobbies, sport and recreational interests, how long you have been at the college, and what your plans are for the future.
  • Educational biography: how you came to specialize in your chosen field, a description of your specific area of expertise, your current projects, and your future plans.
  • Teaching biography: how long have you taught, how many subjects/classes have you taught, what level of class you normally teach, what you enjoy about being in the classroom, what do you learn from your students, and what you expect to teach in the future.
  • In making your decision about what information to share, consider how much you want them to know and how much you want to reveal about yourself.

Allow the Students to Introduce Themselves

This is your opportunity to focus on students as unique and diverse individuals. Consider how introductions can lead into a productive and welcoming classroom environment. Instead of just asking general questions concerning their name, major, and years at GCC, ask them questions that are pertinent to the subject and the atmosphere you want to build through the semester. Here are some examples:

  • In a geography or history class, you may want to ask students to introduce themselves and explain where they are from. You could mark these places on a map of the world as they talk.
  • In a math class, you may want to ask the students to introduce themselves and state one way mathematics enriches their lives every day.
  • You may also want to have the students break into pairs, exchange information, and introduce one another to the class.

This may also be a good time to give your students an exercise that enables teachers to assess the state of their students’ previous or current learning. For example, the Background Knowledge Probe is a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-conceptions about the area of study. Additional examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be found on Vanderbilt’s Web site.

Discuss and Evaluate the Room Environment Together

As your students are introducing themselves and you are talking to them, ask your students to comment on the acoustics and remain conscious of how well you can hear and see each of them. Consider, with their input or alone, how you would change and optimize the seating arrangement. At the end of the introductions, ask them to move to optimize communication and make note of unexpected needs for a microphone, lighting changes, seating arrangements or other environmental controls.

Truth in Advertising:

Course Expectations and Requirements

What happens between you and your students in your classroom or lecture hall depends largely on what you want to happen. How you treat each other and how you and your students feel about being in that place with each other is modeled and influenced by you.”

–From the chapter “Classroom Contracts–Roles, Rules, and Expectations” in David W. Champagne’s The Intelligent Professor’s Guide to Teaching (Roc Edtech, 1995).

  • Course overview: Provide a map of where the class will start and end, and what you expect them to understand at the end of the semester.
  • Departmental Requirements/Expectations: If your department sets standards and requirements, you may want to establish that you are required to work within those parameters.
  • Presentation of material: Tell your students how you will provide them with the materials they need to be successful in class. Do you post Web-based materials in Blackboard, or rely on electronic course reserves through the Library? Will your students have to schedule evenings to watch films or attend performances? Will you lecture and expect them to take notes on your presentations?
  • Expectations for class time: How will the student feel confident and competent in your classroom? Is the class discussion-based? Do you follow your syllabus or do you improvise? Do they need to bring their books every day? Tell them what they can expect and how they can interact within those expectations to thrive in your classroom.
  • Expectations outside of class: Provide them with an idea of what they will need to prepare for the course outside of class. Is their preparation primarily reading and writing individually, or will they be working in groups? Will they need to turn in assignments electronically outside of class hours? Give them enough information so they will be able to plan their schedules accordingly.
  • Instructor responsibilities:
    • Establish what you will provide for your students to be successful in your class. This may include in-class material, study guides, meaningful and prompt feedback on assignments, facilitation of discussion, attention to students with special needs, and a positive and welcoming classroom environment.
    • Assert your boundaries: Let your students know how to contact you and when. For example, communicate or provide your office hours, office phone number, availability for instant messaging, email, and when you do not respond (evenings, weekends, and traveling, for example). If you are traveling during the semester, you may want to explain the dates that you will not be available.
    • You may also want to alert your students to their actions, habits, or situations that detract from your ability to fulfill your responsibility. For example, if late assignments, lack of participation, or sleeping during your lectures distracts you from timely and persuasive teaching, explain why you cannot tolerate these events and how you handle them when they occur.
  • Student responsibilities: If attendance is required, participation is mandatory, or you want them to read the assignment before class, explain to your students that this is expected of them throughout the semester. Explain policies on absences, make-ups, emergencies, and accommodating special needs, as well as the consequences of plagiarism and/or cheating. You may also remind them that they are responsible for their success and communicating with you when they have need assistance or have other concerns.
  • Assessment: How will you assign the course grade at the end of the semester? How many assignments will you grade? Do you have grading policies and/or rubrics or criteria for grading? How soon after an assessment is due can they expect feedback?
  • Cooperation/communication/resources: Finally, you may want to spend a few minutes discussing college, department, library, or other resources for students to use through the course of the semester.

By giving students an interesting and inviting introduction, I was able to reduce anxiety about the course and help students view the class as a collaborative learning process. Every field has its own exciting research or striking examples, and it is a good idea to present a few of these up front. The teaching challenge is to find special ideas within your own field. Your class will thank you.”

–From “How to Start Teaching a Tough Course: Dry Organization Versus Excitement on the First Day of Class” by Kevin L. Bennett, in College Teaching, 52(3), 2004

Additional Resources:

  • Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
  • Erickson, B. L., and Strommer, D. W. Teaching College Freshmen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
  • “The First Day of Class: Advice and Ideas.” Teaching Professor, 1989, 3(7), 1-2.
  • Johnson, G. R. Taking Teaching Seriously. College Station: Center for Teaching Excellence, Texas A & M University, 1988.
  • McKeachie, W. J. Teaching Tips. (8th ed.) Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1986.
  • Scholl-Buckwald, S. “The First Meeting of Class.” In J. Katz (ed.), Teaching as Though Students Mattered. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 21. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.
  • Serey, T. “Meet Your Professor.” Teaching Professor, 1989, 3(l), 2.
  • Weisz, E. “Energizing the Classroom.” College Teaching, 1990, 38(2), 74-76.
  • Wolcowitz, J. “The First Day of Class.” In M. M. Gullette (ed.), The Art and Craft of Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Summary Checklist

  • Introduce yourself
  • Allow the Students to introduce themselves
  • Discuss and evaluate the room environment together
  • Course overview
  • Departmental requirements/expectations
  • Presentation of material
  • Expectations for class time
  • Expectations outside of class
  • Instructor responsibilities
  • Student responsibilities
  • Assessment
  • Cooperation/communication/resources

This teaching guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Edited by Judith Littlejohn, August 1 2018

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