Be Seen, Be Heard -Developing a Virtual Presence in Online Courses
January 26th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
A strong virtual presence indicates to your instructor and other students that you are engaged in the class. What does it mean to be virtually present? As an online student, how can you demonstrate that you are actively involved in your class? There is an attendance requirement for many online schools, which requires you to post a check-in message with your class on a periodic basis, to stay enrolled in the class. However, the more you can find techniques to be visible and contribute in a meaningful way, the more your instructor will know that you are participating in the learning process.
Within a traditional classroom, instructors have the benefit of visually observing students and their involvement in the class. The nature of those visual observations changes with an online classroom environment and instructors look for other clues that let them know their students are actively present. Because of the absence of direct face-to-face interactions, online students need to develop their presence through meaningful indirect interactions. There are additional benefits to being actively visible – you can learn with others and you will likely feel a sense of belonging to your class.
Your Virtual Identity
Developing a virtual identity within a course is a perceptual process that is strengthened through your ongoing interactions with your instructor and classmates. You can manage and enhance the image you project through careful consideration of the messages you post – because the words you choose represent you as a person and you will not be physically present to interpret them as they are being read. Your virtual identity is further influenced by the perceived tone of your messages. There will be a negative perception about you as a person if your messages contain language that is not suitable for an academic environment (such as slang, text messaging abbreviations, or typing in all caps), along with poor spelling and grammar. The development of a positive online image is also worthwhile because it affects your working relationships with other students and your instructor.
Within an online classroom, everyone first becomes acquainted with you when they read your introduction or biography, which is often a requirement in the first week of a new course. This presents an opportunity for you to share highlights of your background, experience, and educational goals, as a means of creating an image of being knowledgeable, personable, and a “real” person to the class. The classroom introduction should not be overlooked because the lack of a response or posting a brief response may be perceived as a lack of caring, when it has a potential to promote a sense of community with your class as others find a way to relate to you. An additional benefit is that you will get to know more about your instructor and/or your classmates as they interact with you.
Your introduction can be enhanced by connecting with others through professional social networking platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn. Caution should be used when connecting with other students through social media because of the potential to reveal too much personal information. You can also utilize a blog as a means of introducing yourself, sharing academic-related interests and goals, hobbies, and your career or professional goals. Again, be cautious about the type of information you share about yourself. You should only include information that you would want your instructors (and employers) to access.
An Active Classroom Environment
If you are used to a physical classroom, you may find that new techniques are required when making a transition to the online environment as communication and relationship-building occur through posted messages rather than scheduled classroom meetings. A common challenge for students in this environment is being actively engaged in the class. A virtual classroom is always “open” and instructors expect to “see” their students in the classroom. Planned participation within discussion boards is one method instructors utilize to encourage your active participation in the process of learning. Through thoughtfully prepared participation postings instructors are able to replicate the interactive nature of the traditional classroom and help you become an active contributor in the class.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
1. It’s not always what you say in the classroom that matters, it’s how you say it. Think about your disposition as you craft your messages and then read them aloud to see how they may be interpreted. Do they appear to have a positive or negative tone? As an example, if students perceive you as being negative by nature they may want to avoid responding to your posts.
2. Move out of your comfort zone into an academic zone. Often students talk about what they know now, which includes their beliefs and opinions. When you create responses consider talking about what you’ve learned, what you’ve read in the assigned materials, and find current events or issues that you can apply the course concepts to when you develop your posts.
3. Let students get to know more about you than who you are now. Students are often focused on their life right now and other students may find it difficult to relate to them if their backgrounds are not an immediate match. For example, students often talk about their present circumstances. It would be helpful to also discuss your professional or academic goals, along with your knowledge of the topic, as a means of developing rapport with more students in your class.
Becoming Visible in a Virtual Classroom
The online classroom changed the format of traditional learning. Without a face-to-face presence, words form the basis of communication in this environment and interactions occur more frequently as the online classroom is always open. These interactions are most effective when you have developed a strong virtual presence, one that initiates responsiveness from other students. A positive online image helps build a sense of working toward common goals and objectives through collaboration with others. You can develop a strong image by paying attention to your communication, postings, and interactions.
Creating a virtual presence means posting more than an occasional check-in with the class; active engagement includes how you are involved in and participate with the class. An effective method of demonstrating engagement in the class is through frequent and relevant postings, along with responses to other students. You can further enhance your identity through the use of social networking and blogs. Should you care about your presence and identity? The answer is yes, if you want to develop meaningful interactions, strengthen responsiveness to your communication, and contribute to a productive learning environment.
How do you create a virtual presence? Share your ideas @DrBruceJ.