Teaching presence is defined as “the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (Joo et al., 2011, p. 1655). There are three main components of teaching presence. The first is the design and organization of the course. This includes the selection, organization and presentation of course content, as well as the development of learning activities and assessment practices. The second component is course facilitation, which includes how an instructor communicates with their learners, how they create and engage in conversations, and the strategies they have for encouraging and eliciting critical thinking in their learners. The final component is direct instruction, which refers to the materials the instructor creates to convey content (Garrison et al., 1999; Joo et al., 2011).
The presence of a teacher is obvious throughout the MOOC, through both the design and facilitation of the course. The course, in its structure and navigation, is extremely well-designed. Course information is organized through four distinct tabs:
- Home: Where users can view the most recent updates from instructors and access to a toolbar with course deadlines, reminders, and completed tasks
- Announcements: Contains the most recent course updates and notifications
- Modules: Offers a direct route to the course content, as opposed to scrolling down from the Home tab
- Discussions: Contains all of the discussion forums throughout the course, as well as related content such as troubleshooting technology issues.
The layout of the content is clear and remained the same throughout the course; every page contained text-based content, a practice activity delivered using SoftChalk software, and an explore activity that was always either a discussion forum or used Padlet tool. The instructor outlines expectations for each module clearly and concisely, explaining the learning outcomes and what content areas are covered. In some cases, there may be more explanation than necessary, as each module contains both an introduction and an overview.
The presence of both the course instructor and the course inspirer is built into the content development of the course. Each module starts with a video introduction from the instructor, allowing the learner to develop a small connection with her. Unfortunately, the videos are filmed in a studio setting and come across as scripted, which limits the extent of connection and relationship-building. Teacher presence is also built into the content through small headshot bubbles that accompany discussion post prompts at the beginning of each module, as well as small asides throughout the modules. These small photos add to the feeling that the course instructor and inspirer are alongside the learner throughout the course.
Both the course instructor and the course inspirer also retain an active presence throughout the course. The course inspirer is active in discussion forums, answering questions and helping to generate and monitor conversation. The instructors also create weekly reflection videos to think upon the course content and the conversation in the discussion board from the previous week. Oddly, in a five-week course, there were only three reflection videos created, so there was a lack of consistency in this exercise. The instructor also hosts a live, synchronous session halfway through the course which is delivered in a lecture format, including slide sharing. Unfortunately, this type of video-conferencing does not allow learners to interact directly with the instructor, and misses the mark on the collaborative potential of a video-conferencing session.