Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

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Instructor presence describes the role online instructors play in students’ cognitive and social development (Roque-Hernández et al., 2021). This article provides tips from recent literature about how to implement strategies to shape the development of an online course by utilizing instructor presence: 

  1. Engage with students through authentic and innovative course communications (Cartee, 2021). 

  1. Be aware of student availability and establish expectations (Fendler, 2021; Gloria & Uttal, 2020; Park & Koo, 2022). 

  1. Leverage intentional course design (Foo, 2021; Pacansky-Brock et al., 2020).  

Course Communications 

Instructors for online courses need to help bridge communication gaps between in-person social interaction and distance communication. The goal is for students to know that there is a real person on the other end (Parrish, et al., 2021). Students have a higher success rate if they view the instructor as authentic, empathetic, and engaged with the course (Cartee, 2021).  

For instance, students enjoy weekly announcements that remind students of what is due each week and tips for success (Glazier et al., 2021). Students also appreciate welcome videos that allow them to get to know the instructor and feel supported throughout the course (Glazier et al., 2020).  

It is also important to showcase a genuine persona. Changing appearances to an animated character or avatar increases the risk of low content retention due to distractions (Yuan et al., 2021). Only alter your appearance if it is due to poor video lighting, which can also impact student perceptions. When filming videos, consider filming a course announcement while walking with a dog, attending a baseball game, or while filling up a car. When instructors display the real world, psychological trust between the instructor and the student is established due to the instructor showcasing their existence in the same world as the student (Pacansky-Brock et al., 2020).  

Student-Instructor Availability 

Instructors should be cognizant of when their students are commonly available to provide timely communication. Online students are most active on "Sunday evenings, between 4 P.M. and 11 P.M., and Thursday evenings between 6 P.M. and 11 P.M." (Fendler, 2021, p. 5). Responding to messages during times that are convenient for students can demonstrate engagement and concern towards students. Additionally, providing a clear availability schedule will allow students to know when to email and help reduce stress regarding communication expectations (Park & Koo, 2022).  

Although many students appear to be "digital natives" in today's world, it does not mean that every student is technologically ready for an online course (Gloria & Uttal, 2020). Consider providing images on navigating the online platform, giving students the chance to build comfort with online learning. This aids in bridging the difference between hybrid or asynchronous learning versus face-to-face instruction (Gloria & Uttal, 2020).  

Course Design Considerations 

Building an understanding of course content through active instructor engagement with students, reinforcing student contributions, and focusing on the transaction of knowledge between the student and instructor can positively influence student perception of the instructor. (Parrish et al., 2021). Therefore, it is important to provide content considerations when designing a course to maximize students' perception of how the instructor approaches the subject matter. Connecting activities to course learning outcomes can help students connect the instructor’s subject knowledge to course expectations.  

The syllabus is frequently the first impression students have of the instructor and course content. Consider a "Liquid Syllabus," created using website tools not housed within the Learning Management System (LMS). Students can share their ideas for course output, allowing the instructor to adapt the syllabus to student needs. Including instructor welcome videos in the liquid syllabus can help build instructor presence (Pacansky-Brock et al., 2020). 

Reduce instructor workload without minimizing engagement by implementing peer-to-peer feedback when possible, such as for essays and discussion boards. Many instructors cannot monitor each aspect of a course, so leveraging peer feedback can benefit the instructor and student. For asynchronous courses where an instructor is already more back seat, peer feedback can minimize the reduced presence of an instructor by having students focus on other areas (Foo, 2021). 

When it comes to instructor presence, employing empathetic, relatable communications, considerations of availability, and student-focused course design can help convey the instructor's authenticity. In fact, students may almost feel a presence similar to a face-to-face course.  


Cartee, J. (2021). Strategic empathy in virtual learning and instruction: A contemplative essay about teacher-student rapport during times of crisis. Journal of Instructional Research, 10, 12–19.  

Fendler, R. J. (2021). Improving the "other side" to faculty presence in online education. Online Journal of Distance Learning and Administration, 24(1), 1–16. 

Foo, S. Y. (2021). Analysing peer feedback in asynchronous online discussions: A case study. Education and Information Technologies, 26(4), 4553–4572.  

Glazier, R. A. (2020). Making human connections in online teaching. PS: Political Science & Politics, 54(1), 175–176.   

Glazier, R. A. (2021). Connecting in the online classroom: Building rapport between teachers and students. Johns Hopkins University Press.   

Gloria, A. M., & Uttal, L. (2020). Conceptual considerations in moving from face-to-face to online teaching. International Journal on E-Learning, 19(2), 139–159.  

Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., & Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing online teaching to equitize higher education. Current Issues in Education, 21(2), 1–21.   

Park, M., & Koo, J. (2022). It takes a village during the pandemic: Predictors of students' course evaluations and grades in online team-based marketing courses. Marketing Education Review, 1–10.   

Parrish, C. W., Guffey, S. K., Williams, D. S., Estis, J. M., & Lewis, D. (2021). Fostering cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence with integrated online—team-based learning. TechTrends, 65(4), 473–484.   

Roque-Hernández, R. V., Díaz-Roldán, J. L., López-Mendoza, A., & Salazar-Hernández, R. (2021). Instructor presence, interactive tools, student engagement, and satisfaction in online education during the COVID-19 Mexican lockdown. Interactive Learning Environments, 1–14.  

Yuan, M., Zeng, J., Wang, A., & Shang, J. (2021). Would it be better if instructors technically adjust their image or voice in online courses? Impact of the way of instructor presence on online learning. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 1–14.