Teaching Presence

photograph of a children's sack race with camp counselors looking on

Image: A photograph of a children's sack race with counselors looking on. Image in the public domain.

“One of the defining characteristics of an effective online class is the frequent presence and ongoing support of the instructor.”

~Flower Darby, Small Teaching Online

Muhlenberg College is characterized by an enduring commitment to the teaching and learning relationship. We have always held, since we began imagining online learning in the liberal arts in 2014, that our best source of preparation and inspiration to guide our efforts is the deep, lively commitment to pedagogy among our faculty. Who am I as a teacher? What values and experiences shape my teaching identity? What do I know about my students? How are my assumptions about students today both an obstacle and vehicle for their learning with me? The reflective practices so familiar to Muhlenberg faculty, fostered through Muhlenberg Center for Teaching and Learning, provides the foundation for critical praxis required in this new teaching and learning environment online.

If you have taught in the basement of Taylor Hall, have you wondered how you might redesign the limited space to make it more hospitable and conducive to active learning? If an Ettinger room with tiered seating has been your learning space, have you wondered how to make small shifts to shape a more welcoming and inclusive space for collaborative learning, or woven through those narrow rows among students to create some closer interaction between you and them? Surely we have all taught in spaces that were uncomfortable in some way, and we can draw on those experiences--how we adapted, modified, revised--as we move intentionally into the space of online teaching. It is another moment to reflect on how you enact your goals, your values, your praxis as a teacher in a new space with both its affordances and its limitations.

The complexities of teaching in a liberal arts environment--the multiple roles we carry, the many hats we wear--are multiplied even further when we step with our students into digital space. Teaching presence is a construct that attempts to describe these multiple and overlapping roles. Online, you are designing a learning environment, facilitating interaction among you and between your students, and guiding learners throughout the course in an environment where the only waypoints available to you and your students are virtual. Teaching presence refers to the intentional, creative ways that you enlist cognitive and social processes in order to support and challenge your students as they extend their understanding and knowledge in new directions. When we are not co-present in space and time, when the familiar spaces of Moyer, Ettinger, the CA, Walson, Trumbower are no longer available to us, how we establish and enact our teaching presence is critical to our students' learning in an online environment.

(Garrison, R. Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry. NY: Routledge, 2016).