While online learning provides students with accessibility, flexibility, and reflective interaction, it can also “create a sense of isolation, making it particularly difficult for a community of inquiry to thrive” (Borup, West, & Graham, 2012, p. 195). In these contexts, it can be difficult to create a sense of community where individuals' personalities are expressed and shared. This article explores ways faculty share their personalities in their online classes and create a space for student expression.
Faculty can connect with students in ways that highlight their distinct personalities and create an environment that allows students to also share and express their own personalities. While not exhaustive, we offer some examples of these strategies through the use of welcome messages, video content, and polling activities. Throughout this article we will follow Hector, a faculty member, as he tackles instructional challenges he faces in teaching in the online environment.
Composing welcome messages
Instructors with experience teaching online have found methods to express their personalities in their instruction. At the beginning of the course, through introductory welcoming emails or videos, many instructors choose to share not only important information about the course but also some information about themselves. This allows students in the course to get to know the instructor. These welcome messages can include course information such as how students can prepare and strategies to be successful in the course, a tour of the course within the learning management system (LMS), course goals and objectives, and student support services and resources that are available. The instructor can also include information such as personal background, academic background, how they got interested in the field, family life, pets, and hobbies. A benefit of creating videos to share this information is that videos capture the face, voice, and setting and communicate mannerisms and expressions that would be conveyed in a face-to-face class. We recommend sending or sharing these messages at least one week prior to the beginning of the class to provide students ample time to prepare for and familiarize themselves with the course.
Hector decides to prepare an introductory video. He asks a colleague to help him record it at his favorite place on campus—the bench where he frequently eats lunch. In the video he is wearing one of his favorite bowties, of course! He shares his career experiences, research interests, and a personal story about he got interested in the field. He also talks about his children and places he has visited. He decides to create a second video using Screencast-O-Matic to provide his students with a tour of his course and discusses course information and expectations. He publishes both videos to his course, and through the course report logs, he notices that students are viewing them days prior to the start of the class. Creating video content
Another way to inject personality into the course is through humanizing content. One way to include such content is through the use of video or voiceover (audio component) when delivering content, rather than relying on text alone. The use of video creation tools (e.g., Panopto, Camtasia, Screencast-O-Matic, VoiceThread) can provide the human side of the content, which is especially beneficial in asynchronous courses. In these videos, instructors can provide instruction that is similar to what occurs in a face-to-face course and can interject personal stories and experiences. Providing students with feedback using these tools can also be helpful. Hearing the instructors' voice when receiving feedback illuminates the instructor's message and meaning and allows the students to further develop an understanding of the instructor's personality.
Hector knows he has to engage his audience. He thinks of himself as a radio DJ and pretends his audience is sitting right in front of him drinking a cup of coffee. The content of each lecture is delivered in such a personable way that the listeners find themselves nodding and saying yes when Hector asks questions. Here's an example: “Have you ever wondered what happens to plastic bottles when you put them in the recycle bin and they magically disappear after a few days?”Administering poll activities
The use of polls can be advantageous for sharing a sense of self with the class. Polls can be used to discuss course content and to share information about other topics. Using tools such asPoll Everywhereor features in an LMS, polls can be created asking students to share their ideas, thoughts, or perspectives. Reflection on these points can allow the instructor to further share aspects of her or his personality.
Hector asked the class via poll in his LMS how many students were going to see the new Star Wars movie over the weekend. The next week, he followed up by asking for their reviews of the movie. In the following weeks, content from the film filtered into the class discussion related to family dynamics, conflict, and self-development. Students who had not seen the film shared other films related to the topics. Some students shared other films on social media.
The asynchronous nature of the online learning context challenges established boundaries and historic roles, just as it creates new opportunities for faculty and students to learn together. As the instructor builds his or her connections with the class, it is equally important for members of the course to be able to share their personalities and build their presence in the course. In this learning context, personalities can continue to show through with intentional practices.
Borup, J., West, R. E., & Graham, C. R. (2012). Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(3), 195–203.
Jennifer Baumgartner is an associate professor of education, Hala Esmail is an educational technology consultant, and Crystal Johnson is an associate professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University.