“P” Stands for Presence: A Reflection on Teaching in Online Environments

I love growing scholars!

Sometimes I have a hard time answering the question:  “do you like teaching online?”  Colleagues frequently ask me this questions, which is interesting in itself because I teach in a department with the word “digital” in its name.  So, when they ask me, I am often slow to answer.  I mean, there are so many variables, right? I do like experimenting with my critical-democratic teaching methods in new spaces.  I also like providing an alternative to traditional coursework for students who are returning to school.  I don’t like working on Sunday nights (who does?); I typically don’t like modular ANYTHING — I’m an organic kinda gal.

In my second year on the SPSU faculty, my chair asked me to teach a graduate course.  Of course, this request also meant teaching online (for the first time), since our department’s graduate programs are 100% online delivery.  I accepted, because I just can’t say no — NO. But , I took on the challenge, primarily because I wanted to teach a grad course. Then came the caveat: “oh by the way, you also have to re/design this course and pass it through TADL (SPSU’s legacy online certification protocol).  Oh, and you’ll also need to get TADL trained by next week.”  Again, I must practice my “NO’s.  We were in the midst of consolidation, my chair seemed desperate (which is probably why she asked me in the first place), and I’m a placater.  So, I did all of the above.

screaming woman with birds circling her head
Yes, of course I will do that!

As I designed my course, I realized early on that many of the same best practices, like:

Stating measurable learning outcomes — Providing multimodal writing opportunities — Cultivating instructor’s presence

could transfer to my online pedagogy.  I also realized that some best face-to-face practices DO NOT.  After some trials and lots or errors, the eight students in my first class and I collaboratively negotiated on what worked and what didn’t.  I owe these students a debt of gratitude, because they rose to both technical challenges and the inherent digital tools issues experienced by a first-time online teacher.  We made it through a couple of BlackBoard Collaborate sessions, and presented our work using Prezi. Together, we found that we could transform the way we learned from each other by integrating some cool tools but still maintaining the core notion of community and presence.  That first course gave me the confidence to continue developing and teaching in online spaces, always with the reminder that presence and community are  key, and cool tech-tools are useful — but only when they are meaningful complements to that same presence and community.

red wagon with a cat riding in it.

Flash-forward a year,and so much lovely professional growth later, and I find myself surrounded by a group of colleagues who are traveling this journey as well (some so much further along, they may have to pull me in my little red wagon!) As I read everyone’s creative responses to Angela Velez-Solic’s chapter, I reflected on being a member of this community of teacher-learners and how we are growing our skills in such diverse yet networked ways.  How very rhizomatic of us!

This is just to say… learning best online practices over the past couple of years has taught me to have a growth mindset and to approach new challenges not as drudgery but as opportunities to cultivate my teaching presence as I learn from my communities of teacher-and-student scholars.  I really do enjoy being present for all of this amazing growth!

Please provide me feedback and comments below.  I look forward to talking with you about democratic, online learning.  You may also email me at jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu.

Rhizomatic Learning Info-graphic
Rhizomatic Learning Info-graphic from Dave Cormier

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