6 Online Teaching Presence Through Course Design

Linda Perschonke


Number of people involved:

30-40 students


Amount of time scheduled for the activity:

Sessions 1-12 (Each Session runs for 7 days from Monday to Sunday)


Program/Class the plan was used for:

2F92: Curriculum Design for Adult Learners (Spring 2018)


Example of Activity:

In this course, learners create a 12-week, 36-hour course at the university or college level (or a course for the workplace or community using the standards applicable to a university or college course) that consists of learning outcomes, assessments and a lesson plan for one of the 12 sessions.


Having facilitated this course numerous times over the past 12.5 years, I would see learners quickly becoming overwhelmed by the amount of readings, theories and activities.  For the Spring term, I wanted to put learners at ease and I decided to try something new, embracing the philosophy that “good teaching is whatever helps students learn” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 17)!


Before the Term Started:

I held three ‘meet and greet’ sessions using the LifeSize video conference tool available in Sakai (learning management system) where I introduced myself and my approach to teaching and learning. An important part of my philosophy is interaction with the learners and I shared that I would be conducting an experiment whereby I would also be creating a course over the upcoming 12-weeks. The rationale was that as learners were working on their curriculum design projects, they could refer to my content to see how I was applying the theory from the assigned course readings to complete the activities. It is important to note that learners were advised that my intent was to demonstrate theory in action so I would not be creating a course to the same specifications they were being assessed on. Finally, for those who could not attend the live ‘meet and greet’ sessions, summaries were posted in Sakai.


Once the Term Started:

I communicated my plans using the various tool in Sakai (Announcements and Messages) and the LifeSize video conference in Week 1 and in Week 2. I also created a forum in Sakai called Linda’s Curriculum Design Project.


Throughout the Term:

Each Sunday I posted in Sakai my methodology and approach to the upcoming week’s course design activities along with the amount of time I spent. Learners could then review as they worked on their course design projects and post any comments or questions. Further, the twice weekly LifeSize video conferences provided the opportunity to discuss any challenges.


Each Friday when I posted the weekly “what to expect” message to learners for the upcoming week, I included a reminder to check out my curriculum design project and a reminder to attend one of the two weekly LifeSize video conferences.


Procedure for the Instructor:

  1. Request the LifeSize video conference link added to my course
  2. Communicate plan in the ‘Instructor Meet and Greet’ LifeSize video conferences before the course started
  3. In Session 1,
    1. Send email to learners outlining my plan
    2. Survey learners for meeting times
  4. Communicate meeting times to Learners via Announcements (which alos sent an email to their Brock accounts) and add to the Sakai Calendar
  5. Read all of the course material and review all of the activities
  6. Create a forum in the Town Hall to post my course design project
  7. Complete course design activities which were posted each Sunday for the upcoming week
  8. Host the twice weekly LifeSize video conferences and post a summary for learners who could not attend

Ways in Which the Plan Addresses Democratization or Justice:


Most of us can likely relate, at some point in our careers to Brookfield (2015) who commented that “teaching is a process of informed muddling through complex and unexpected situations” (p. 15). However, the teaching presence is specifically defined as “the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison & Archer, 2001, p.5).  So why is this important?


Teaching presence is directly related to student satisfaction and learning. Because of the lack of proximity in online learning, it is important that a teacher is cognizant of how his or her teaching presence manifests in an online environment. (Clarke & Bartholomew, 2014, p.3)


I want to emphasize that “practitioners can create the conditions for critical thinking, rational judgments, and understanding through the engagement of a community of inquiry” (Vaughan, 2013, p. 10) in order for learners to truly become co-creators of knowledge.  During the term, my role of the facilitator changed (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, as cited in Ouyang & Scharber, 2017, p. 35). Initially learners referred to my course design and their questions related to the decisions I made but by Session 4, there was a shift and learners began asking each other course design questions.


According to Palloff & Pratt (2007), there are three stages of learning community development:


Stage 1 – Learners tend to observe more than participate and communication increases as interaction and relationships develop. Learner interaction is highest with the facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to model ways of interaction, provide instructions, participate in discussions and answer questions.

Stage 2 – Learners are more interactive with their peers and begin to collaborate with them. Discussions are largely moderated by the groups. Facilitators guide and support the learners in the various activities. Facilitators encourage creativity and allow discussions to flow naturally, even if they seem to stray from the assigned topic.

Stage 3 – Learners participate and facilitate their own discussions. Learners are more self-directed and the facilitator provides support as learners experiment with different ways of communicating. This includes encouraging learners to summarize their own discussions and promoting new areas to discuss and research. (as cited in Ouyang & Scharber, 2017, p. 35)


This is the model I referred to and the stages do not necessarily occur in sequential order. It is important to keep in mind that while the role of the learners increases, the facilitator presence must continue throughout the course and it is Garrison (2014) who reminds us that “instructor participation in online discussions is a balancing act” (n.p.).

Finally, because “All participants in a collaborative learning environment must assume various degrees of teaching responsibilities depending on the specific content, developmental level, and ability” (Vaughan, 2013, p. 14), the teaching presence signifies a learner-centred environment, one where power and control of the learning is shared so it is important to let learners know there is a rationale behind our actions and choices (Brookfield, 2015, p. 47)!


How to Build the Activity in SAKAI:

  • Create a forum topic for the course design project
  • Communicate to students using Sakai tools (Announcements, Messages, Forums)
  • Interact with students using the LifeSize Video Conference

Variations of the Activity:

  • Host synchronous chats to talk about course design







Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conference environment. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17.


Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Clarke, L. W., & Bartholomew, A. (2014). Digging beneath the surface: Analyzing the complexity of instructors’ participation in asynchronous discussion. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 18(3).


Garrison, R. (2014). Reaction to Clarke and Bartholomew Article. Available at https://coi.athabascau.ca/forums/topic/reaction-to-clarke-and-bartholomew-article/


Ouyang, F., & Scharber, C. (2017). The influences of an experienced instructor’s discussion design and facilitation on an online learning community development: A social network analysis study. Internet & Higher Education, 3534-47. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2017.07.002


Vaughan, N.D. (2013). Conceptual framework. In Norman D. Vaughan, Martha Cleveland-Innes, and D. Randy Garrison. (Eds.), Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry, 2013. (pp 7-18).