Teaching Presence and Facilitation

“Those teachers who are students of their own effects are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.”

John Hattie (2008)

One of the largest influences on student satisfaction and/or success is a faculty member’s direct interaction with students during a course, whether provided asynchronously or synchronously or as individual or group communication.

To support this interaction, the following guidelines synthesize research-based principles regarding online teaching and articulate core, student-centered behaviors that can improve learning processes and outcomes. These guidelines help clarify instructor roles and responsibilities that promote learning, strengthen a student’s sense of connection to the faculty and the university, and contribute to positive perceptions of course and program quality.  They help overcome the transactional distance inherent in a web-based environment, where contact is mediated by technology rather than by direct verbal and visual cues.

We articulate five principles (or standards) and their rationale and behavioral norms, then suggest specific indicators that demonstrate evidence of the standard. Program leaders and faculty can use these standards to self-assess their teaching style and behavior, to discuss and disseminate online teaching best practices as part of faculty professional development, to clarify what students should reasonably expect from their online program, and/or to define a threshold of shared practice among faculty.

Academic Partnerships recommends that a program identify and embrace a common set of engagement indicators that complement a course quality rubric (e.g. from Quality Matters or the Online Learning Consortium) that focuses on the quality of course content.

Below the standards are described with rationale. To learn more about how to achieve these specifically in your course, please contact your AP Academic Services and Products Consultant.

Instructor lectures at a camera and points to a chalk board

Standard 1: Establish and Cultivate Online Presence

Effective online faculty members actively establish and create a sense of presence within their online classroom through appropriate online interaction and communications.

Why Is This Important for Students?

Research demonstrates that students benefit most from courses where instructors are actively involved and engaged in their classes. Also, there is ample data confirming that faculty engagement positively correlates to learning and student success. (Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005, Zhao & Kuh, 2004; Richardson & Swan, 2003). One broad, well-established framework is the Community of Inquiry Model, which sets forth three, overlapping dimensions to presence: social, cognitive, and teaching. Social presence refers to one’s ability to foster a humanized presence online, i.e., to appear as a “real person,” and is defined as “the ability to project [oneself] socially and emotionally in a community of inquiry” (Rourke et al., 1999).

Social presence includes affective and emotional exchanges that bolster relations, interactions, and communications within a course community. Cognitive presence emerges when faculty and/or students are able to engage collectively in meaningful inquiry with communication sustained over time. It occurs when “learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry” (Rourke et al., 1999). Teaching presence encompasses activities associated with guiding learners’ cognitive processes and learning paths to achieve particular learning outcomes.  It incorporates “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (Anderson et al., 2001).  Below are standards that provide a baseline for fundamental presence (Garrison et. al., 2000).

Standard 2: Feedback and Assessment

Effective faculty use assessment and feedback tools that enhance learning by providing students with timely information about their performance on assignments and activities as well as their progress toward achieving course goals.

Why Is This Important for Students?

Timely and meaningful feedback provides your online students with critical information about their learning performance against stated course objectives.  Not only does feedback support quality outcomes as it provides students opportunities to remediate and improve specific aspects of their performance, but feedback on progress and performance can positively influence learner motivation, self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, and self-regulation.

Standard 3: Social Constructivism

Effective faculty create a rich, safe, and interactive learning environment that uses peer-peer engagement to promote thoughtful engagement with material and to stimulate deeper learning connections within the class learning community. These interactions can include questioning, scaffolding, and other inquiry and other metacognitive techniques, focused on augmenting student knowledge and encouraging application and transfer to new contexts.

Why Is This Important to Students?

Learners construct knowledge and enhanced understandings and insights through a myriad of situated, social interactions afforded within a learning community.  The sharing of individual experiences across the community creates opportunities for vicarious learning that influences deeper understandings across the group, and it also fosters more connections to seed rich discourse and shared knowledge building.  (Brown et al., 1989; Bandura, 1986, 1987; Garrison et. al., 2000).

Standard 4: Direct Instruction

The effective faculty instruct student learning on course concepts and topics individually and within groups.  Direct instruction may include course presentations, demonstrations, and knowledge dissemination that instruct, clarify, summarize, and correct students’ understandings and frame their performance against stated learning objectives.

Why Is This Important?

In the online classroom direct instruction plays an essential role within the overall instructional methods that are used in conjunction with each other to promote intended learning outcomes.  With instructional communications [email, announcements, discussion posts] and more lecture-based artifacts such as screencasts, podcasts, and video micro-lectures, the instructor presents information, concepts, and models to students and the classroom community   (Daniels & Bizar, 2005, Bocchi, Eastman, & Swift, 2004, Park, Perry, & Edwards, 2011).

Standard 5: Responsiveness

Responsiveness refers to a range of teaching behaviors that promote a student-centric classroom and use teaching presence to support and deepen learning outcomes. It is understood as the deliberate commitment to integrate the contributions of all students and foster learning inclusion. Working from the assumption that learning emerges from negotiations between faculty, student, and context, responsiveness first acknowledges this interplay. Then it challenges faculty to be dynamically present and to consciously create personalized opportunities for deeper learning.

Why Is This Important?

Research has shown that no one teaching strategy will consistently engage all learners. The key is helping students engage with novel concepts, topics, and ideas. To be effective in the online classrooms, instructors must relate teaching content to the backgrounds and experiences of their students. According to the research, teaching that ignores student norms of behavior and communication provokes student resistance, while teaching that is responsive prompts student involvement (Olneck 1995). There is growing evidence that strong, continual engagement among diverse students requires a holistic approach—that is, an approach where the how, what, and why of teaching are unified and meaningful (Ogbu 1995).

AP authored a Teaching Presence and Facilitation Guidance document with standards defined for self-assessment and descriptions of how these standards look in an online course.  To learn more, please contact your AP Academic Services and Product Consultant.

Student participates in conversation online.


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Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.

Bocchi, J., Eastman, J. K., & Swift, C. O. (2004). Retaining the online learner: Profile of students in an online MBA program and implications for teaching them. Journal of Education for Business, 79(4), 245-253.

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Daniels, H., & Bizar, M. (2005). Teaching the best practice way: Methods that matter, K-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7-23.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87-105.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Ogbu, J. U. & Simons, H.D. (1998). Voluntary and involuntary minorities: A cultural-ecological theory of school performance with some implications for education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 29(2), 155-188.

Olneck, M. R. (1995). Immigrants and education. In J. A. Banks & C. A. M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Park, C., Perry, B., & Edwards, M. (2011). Minimizing attrition: Strategies for assisting students who are at risk of withdrawal. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48(1), 37–47.

Richardson, J. C. & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), 68–88.

Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (1999). Assessing social presence in asynchronous, text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(3), 51-70.

Umbach, P. D. & Wawrzynski, M. R. (2005). Faculty do matter: The role of college faculty in student learning and engagement. Research in Higher Education46(2), 153-184.

Zhao, C. M. & Kuh, G. D. (2004). Adding value: Learning communities and student engagement. Research in Higher Education45(2), 115-138.