Designing to Promote Instructor Presence and Instructor-Student Interaction

by Dolly Lemke

Whatever our role might be in the course design process, we are charged with creating an exemplary learning experience for our adult learners. One way to ensure we create the highest quality and most engaging courses is by designing learning experiences that incorporate instructor presence and encourage student-instructor interactions.  

Instructor presence is one of the three interrelated presences central to effectively applying the community of inquiry framework to online course design, in addition to social presence and cognitive presence. The community of inquiry framework, developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer in 2000, focuses on creating “a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.” Instructor presence includes “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educational[ly] worthwhile learning outcomes.” (For more information about CoI, visit The Community of Inquiry website.)

During the design and development process, student experience and learning must remain at the forefront, including the quality of learning and ensuring students can successfully demonstrate learning by designing and implementing effective learning activities and assessments. When the course goes live, the instructor has even more responsibility: providing direct instruction through guiding and monitoring student learning progress, summarizing or providing clarifying details for individual activities or weekly content, providing meaningful and timely feedback, as well as creating and maintaining a positive and engaging environment, encouraging student participation, providing timely responses to student questions and concerns, among other things. (Purdue Learning Blog)

It is important to make sure that the course design has a good amount of instructor presence, before it even goes live, as well as preparing instructors and setting the right expectations for direct instruction and facilitation. This shows the students that the instructor is there to guide “them along the way in a safe environment where they can feel free to share their thoughts, and learn from the instructor and from each other without being judged or criticized in a negative way.” (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) Here are a five great ways to incorporate instructor presence and set the right expectations during the course design process:

Welcome Message Video

Recording and posting a welcome messages allows students to see and hear the instructor right away. A welcome video creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for students. Students also get to learn more about the instructor’s personality, background, and experience. This goes one step beyond the bio and gives students a glimpse into who the instructor really is. Students get a sense of real connection even in the distance format. For more information on how to plan, record, and share videos, visit the Video page on the SPS Distance Learning website.


Regularly posting announcements is an easy to use communication tool that promotes instructor presences in the online classroom. Instructors can share current or exciting resources, articles, and news. This shows students that the instructor is focused on guiding them and on providing the most up-to-date information and resources. Instructors can also share updates, changes to course content, or new due dates. For more information on how to use announcements, watch the Announcement Overview from the Canvas Tutorial Video Series.

Synchronous Sessions

Each Canvas course site is equipped with BlueJeans, a web conferencing platform integrated with Canvas. Offering synchronous meetings throughout an online course gives students a unique chance to meet with the instructor as a whole class, in small groups, or one-on-one. This kind of interaction is not always available in the online world, but with BlueJeans, it can always be an option. Instructors are encouraged to host weekly optional synchronous sessions meetings. For more information, visit the BlueJeans page in the Canvas Learning Center.

Ask Your Instructor Forum

Students want to know that instructors are active and available in the online classroom. Designing and participating in an Ask Your Instructor Forum gives students an opportunity to post questions about course content or expectations. The forum should be public and open to the entire class. It is likely that students will have similar questions about the course; an open forum allows all students to benefit from reading the question and answer. For more information about forums, review some of the Canvas Guides on Discussions.

Be Prepared to Monitor and Facilitate

  • Regularly log in and monitor general course activity
    • Make sure students are accessing the materials and address any course questions.
    • Make sure students are posting on time and encourage them to do so if forum participation is low.
  • Provide timely responses to student questions
    • A 48-hour turnaround is a good rule of thumb for responses to student questions.
    • Follow up via email if additional or private communication is necessary.
  • Provide timely delivery of grades and meaningful feedback
    • Make sure grading expectations are clear for how quickly assignments will be graded and feedback will be returned.
    • Include this information in the syllabus and/or assignment guidelines.
    • Remind students of larger, higher-stakes projects. Provide milestones throughout the course and opportunities to practice.
  • Active and regular forum participation and monitoring
    • Instructors can set a schedule for logging in to monitor forums and posting replies that further the discussion.
    • Canvas discussion forums are very dynamic. Instructors can easily reply to threads or post announcements using text, video, audio, and attachments.
  • Privately identify and reach out to struggling students
    • In the online classroom, it might be harder to spot certain behaviors that struggling students exhibit.
    • Find out if they are struggling with the material due to lack of proper accommodations. Some students are not comfortable requesting such accommodations. If students need accommodations, direct them to AccessibleNU.  
    • Provide institutional resources for academic assistance, such as the library writing center, or tutoring services.