Creating an Effective Personal Profile in Online Learning

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

This module suggests some ways for instructors teaching online to create online presence—both as static identities and as dynamic ones (over the lifespan of the online course and beyond). Online instructors are encouraged to be strategic and purposive in their approaches. They will review the uses of related technologies to convey presence. They will also consider when to review their online presence strategies.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • review what online learners may expect (generally) from their online instructors in terms of online presence
  • differentiate between a statically communicated online profile and a dynamic and continuing one during the length of an online course and beyond
  • consider some strategies and tactics in creating an online instructor profile in an online course (and the reasons why these are effective approaches)
  • consider what technology tools may be harnessed (optimally) to convey online instructor presence
  • review when to update their online instructor presence as a static communication and as a dynamic one

Module Pretest

1. What are some general expectations of online learners for how their online instructors will create their online presence?

2. What is the difference between a statically communicated online profile and a dynamically communicated one (over the lifespan of an online course and beyond)?

3. What are some strategies and tactics in creating an online instructor profile in an online course? Why?

4. What are some technology tools that may be harnessed to convey online instructor presence? How may these be optimally harnessed?

5. How often should online instructors update their online presence in an online course? Their static presence? Their dynamic presence? Why? What is the least amount of updating required? For those who want to do more, what are some value-added types of online presences?

Main Contents

1. What are some general expectations of online learners for how their online instructors will create their online presence?

What online learners expect of their online instructors may vary depending on culture, the learning domain, prior experiences, and other factors.

Generally, though, online learners want three basic things: (1) a sense of the individuality and personhood of their instructors, especially their better sides (because people tend to interact with each other around a personality frame), (2) a sense of the instructor’s expertise (because people want to know that they can extend trust to their instructor), and (3) a sense that their instructors care about them as individuals and as learners (in that order).

Said again, learners want to know that their instructors are people, too; that their instructors belong in the position based on their training and their professional experiences, and that their instructors care about them as people and as learners.

Elements that convey personhood:

Online instructors may convey personhood in the following ways:

  • professional photos of themselves
  • work-based videos of themselves
  • a sense of the online instructor’s history
  • stories about their work-based experiences
  • some limited stories about their lives (just a very few)
  • sense of approachability and responsiveness
  • design of social interactivity in the online course
  • acknowledgment of the personhood of the learners and others in the course
  • some “rules for handling” the instructor [in terms of his / her / their preferences for student work and student communications with the instructor(s)], and others

Elements that convey expertise:

  • a well designed online course (including cognitive scaffolding)
  • a professional biography
  • a select CV (curriculum vitae)
  • clear course policies (without contravention of university policies and higher laws)
  • clear standards for learner work, and others

Elements that convey care:

  • a well designed online course
  • relevant guest speakers
  • observable (and “costly” vs. “cheap talk”) expressions of good will
  • responsiveness to learners (in substance, in time)
  • respectful communications
  • professional and ethical behavior
  • adaptability to learner needs
  • the keeping of confidences, and others


2. What is the difference between a statically communicated online profile and a dynamically communicated one (over the lifespan of an online course and beyond)?

Statically communicated profiles are images, videos, text, and other elements that are pre-created and pre-shared in the online course site. These may include pre-created user identities on social media platforms.

Dynamically communicated profiles are built on the interactions between the online instructors and their learners during the course and afterwards. This is created by how the online instructor interacts with learners individually and in groups and as whole courses…because this shows how the instructors actually engage.

Both types of instructor profiles are important. However, the latter is much more important than the former because it’s not just “cheap talk” by professing an identity but “costly signaling” by actually walking the walk (or in some cases, doing a shamble).


3. What are some strategies and tactics in creating an online instructor profile in an online course? Why?

Instructors who teach online can design this part for themselves. However, there are some common platitudes that actually might work, such as, “Be yourself.” There is no point is going farther than one is comfortable.

Make sure that the personal sharing is there to enhance the learning and the understanding of the domain. Consider whether the instructor is modeling the right behavior for the learners.

Avoid crossing any social or cultural lines—understood as global cultures—because learners likely hail from everywhere in the world.

It makes sense to be sensitive to learners’ experiences in the course and to support them in their learning experiences. There is a place for discomfiting and challenging learners based on learning objectives and within the realm of good sense, but there is no point in discomfiting anyone because of non-learning issues.


4. What are some technology tools that may be harnessed to convey online instructor presence? How may these be optimally harnessed?

As mentioned earlier, in terms of digital formats, instructors may use text, photos, audio, video, simulations, games, and other digital artifacts through which to express themselves.

Most learning management systems (LMSes) contain a profile section that enables the sharing of a name, a photo, and a short bio. That may be used.

There are announcements sections that may be used for regular check-ins with learners.

There are built-in email systems that enable both broadcast and narrowcst emails.

An instructor may dynamically interact with learners using Discussion Boards, for asynchronous interactions.

An instructor may use web conferencing tools for synchronous audio-visual and textual interactions.

It helps to consider the tools above not as stand-alone tools but in some sort of coherent integrated solution to create a sort of instructor presence in an engaging and high-touch online learning experience.


5. How often should online instructors update their online telepresence in an online course? Their static presence? Their dynamic presence? Why? What is the least amount of updating required? For those who want to do more, what are some value-added types of online presences?

If a general online instructor presence plan is sound, it can be used effectively for a long time. (More about what goes into a plan follows in the “how to” section.) The plan’s relative longevity does not mean that the instantiation or expression of that plan works for long periods.

For example, when certain elements in the teaching and learning change, it may help to update the instructor presence materials and interactions. What are some of these elements?

  • changes in the practices, methods, and technologies in the domain field
  • changes in the nation’s / state’s / university’s policies and laws related to online learning (such as regarding accessibility)
  • enhanced understandings of diversity and inclusivity and ways to be welcoming of both
  • changes to the instructor over time

It is understandable that instructors who are teaching online may be comfortable with the materials they have since much effort has been invested, but it is important to stay engaged and relevant… and doing that requires some effort.

Examples

(There are none being shared currently. However, for those whose colleagues are willing, they may share their online course presence with each other.)

How To

The steps for how to create an online presence plan may be as follows:

  • Design a general plan for one’s static online presence (while considering professional requirements and learner needs and points-of-view)
  • Design a general plan for one’s dynamic online presence (while considering professional requirements and learner needs and points-of-view)
  • Develop elements of the static online presence: photos, video, professional biography, statements of expectations, statements of preferences, and others
  • Develop elements of the dynamic online presence: reminder messages, encouraging email messages, assignments with interactions for learners, and others
  • Build the online presence elements into the online course
  • Test the online presence elements with test (and / or live) learners (and purposefully elicit feedback from colleagues and from online learners)
  • Revise the online presence plan, design, development, and execution
  • Repeat as needed


Possible Pitfalls

The risks here for instructors who teach via distance are either doing too little (by not being presence) or doing too much (by having excessive online presence that gets in the way of learning or that goes beyond professional bounds).

To avoid such risks, it is helpful to consider that the instructor presence is there to achieve several things:

  • promote learner senses of self-confidence and personhood
  • lessen learner fear and inhibitions
  • model professional roles
  • build a sense of a learning community (and even a community of practice)
  • ensure effective teaching and learning, and
  • other objectives

Instructors who teach via distance walk a fine line between making a necessary sense of online presence within their professional roles and going beyond their roles. There are risks of some susceptible learners misunderstanding the instructor’s online presence as an invitation to increased closeness beyond professional bounds.

Should there be friending of students on instructor’s social sites? Sure, if the sites are designed for learning purposes. If they involve the instructor’s personal life and family, maybe a different account should be used for interacting with learners.

Module Post-Test

1. What are some general expectations of online learners for how their online instructors will create their online presence?

2. What is the difference between a statically communicated online profile and a dynamically communicated one (over the lifespan of an online course and beyond)?

3. What are some strategies and tactics in creating an online instructor profile in an online course? Why?

4. What are some technology tools that may be harnessed to convey online instructor presence? How may these be optimally harnessed?

5. How often should online instructors update their online telepresence in an online course? Their static presence? Their dynamic presence? Why? What is the least amount of updating required? For those who want to do more, what are some value-added types of online presences?

References

Extra Resources

The makers of various learning management systems (LMSes) may have suggestions for instructor telepresence.