Humanizing the Digital Learning Experience: Part 2

January 10, 2017

The Definition of “There”

Have you avoided using a learning management system (LMS --- which is known as “Canvas” or “bCourses” on our campus) in your course because you’reconcerned learners won’t actually be “there”?  Don’t be surprised that many learners worry that their instructor won’t be “there” in the LMS either.  Even if you are teaching in a physical classroom and meet with your learners face-to-face every week it’s important that if you are using the LMS you treat it as a “classroom annex” and be “there” by having a digital presence as well.  

What does having a digital presence mean?  It does not mean being in the bCourse site 24/7 as many students and some instructors may think.  Lehman and Conceicao (2010) defined it more as a “sense of presence” that “looks and feels as if the instructor is accessible to the learners and that the learners are accessible to the instructor and each other, and that the technology is transparent to the learning process.”   As the saying goes “Perception is Everything”  so digital presence is not immediate presence but rather technology-mediated presence.  

Garrison and Vaughn (2008) parsed presence in an educational context into three areas:  Social, Cognitive and Teaching.  We’ll talk about how you can use the digital environment for social and cognitive presence in a future blog.  Right now let’s focus on Teaching Presence which can be defined as:  “provides the design, facilitation and direction for a worthwhile educational experience” (p. 24).  Here are ways your learners can hear your voice, receive your guidance and support, without you having to be in real time speaking to them:  

1 - Highlight in the syllabus how you will be using the LMS and expectations learners can have about your presence there (i.e. response time to questions/comments).

2 - Welcome your learners to the digital classroom that is the LMS just as you would to your physical classroom by adding a short one minute video.  Reiterating the purpose of this additional learning environment sets the tone that you plan to be present in the digital learning environment just as you are in the physical learning environment.  

3 - Set up an “online office” in the discussion area so that you can quickly check one area and respond to posted questions.  How soon should you commit to answer those?  You may commit to learners that you or your GSI will do that within 24 hours or by the beginning of the next class session, whichever is sooner.  You might also want to use the LMS for “real time” office hours as well.

4 - Link the physical classroom activities to the digital activities. What are learners doing outside the classroom and how can the digital classroom help them? Do you have tips concerning how to successfully complete the assigned homework?  Is there another example you’d like to show students?  Are there areas you know students have traditionally struggled with?  A short 3-5 minute audio presentation might just be what’s needed. This establishes a “just-in-time” virtual presence and the perception that you’re there when needed.

5 - Didn’t quite say everything you’d like to during class?  Again a quick audio recording might be just what’s needed to wrap things up so that learners are ready for the next class.

Now that YOU are “there” you’ll need to make sure your learners are “there”.  That’s the next blog. One more thing --- there’s a lot of talk in this blog about video and audio.  If you’re new to producing media for your course, this resource might be of help in getting started:



Garrison, D.R. and Vaughan, N.D. (2008).  Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles and guidelines.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lehman, R.M. and Conceicao, S.C.O. (2010).  Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to “Be There” for Distance Learners.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.