Tools for social presence online

We know it is important to establish and maintain a social presence as a teacher – in any teaching mode. In the online delivery mode, it is arguably even more important, and we rely on tools to make that possible.

There are a range of communication tools in FLO that you can use to enable a social presence in your topic site. We can also consider the FLO site itself as a ‘home’ for the topic that students come into to ‘do’ something. Coming into the topic site, and standing in the shoes of the student, ask yourself, what does it feel like? Is it friendly, welcoming? Where is everyone? Who is teaching? One of the advantages of the online environment is that we can create a teaching presence all the time: but this doesn’t mean you need to be there 24/7.

A human presence online: your face and voice
The learning environment should be as human and personal as much as possible.

One important way of establishing your constant and dependable presence in FLO is to put a picture in your FLO profile, so that it appears in the topic site in your Topic welcome block and in your forum posts.

Your ‘teacher voice’ is also part of your presence, and can be preserved in the topic site in the form of narrative instruction. This is about providing in written form what you want to ‘say’ about tasks and content. Use labels and add and display descriptions to add context and purpose.

You can also provide a ‘livelier’ presence by recording video using Kaltura desktop recorder. Students enjoy seeing teaching staff as human beings, and the opportunity right now is to share this more personal side of you with them. Don’t worry if your cat walks across the screen – students will enjoy it. In addition to providing chunks of content in a lecture-style approach, you can use video to stand in for your physical presence; to orient students to a task, explain a process, or provide feedback on a task.

But of course, video is not interactive. To encourage interaction, you can supplement a video with an interactive tool such a Feedback, Choice or Forum, to capture responses from students. For instance you might ask them at the end of the video what they thought was important, or ask questions, to respond with how they will take action, or to let you know what else they need to know.

For synchronous (real-time) interaction, choose Collaborate web-conferencing. If possible, record the session so that if students cannot attend at the scheduled time, they can view it later. Again, you can supplement with other tools such as feedback, choice or forum.

Forums for communicating
Announcements go straight to student Flinders emails, so are a good way to contact students and signal something important or new, for example you may have switched to using Kaltura to record lectures.

The simple discussion forum is an underrated tool. Within the basic forum, students and staff can create new threads, share content, and respond, either as a whole cohort or within smaller groups.

Use forums to establish and maintain your presence in the topic. Consider:

  • Establishing the protocols of a forum – an opportunity to discuss norms or etiquette, agree on behaviours, and expectations around postings and replies – including how you will be active in the forum
  • Starting a dedicated forum for a special conversation about something – this might be associated with content like a video or article, or continue a conversation started in Collaborate
  • Starting a new forum thread – students don’t like to be first to start a thread, but they might more readily respond to yours
  • Responding to posts individually, if this is reasonable. If not…
  • Responding collectively to posts. You can pick out salient points shared by the class and acknowledge that you have been reading the posts, without needing to respond to each one.


Written by Nicola Parkin
Learning Designer – CILT

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