Convey Your Online Teaching Persona

In order to effectively establish and maintain an active learning community, the instructor must establish his or her teaching persona and maintain it throughout the course, says Bill Phillips, an instructional designer at the University of Central Florida. Unlike in a face-to-face classroom, one’s persona in the online classroom needs to be deliberately incorporated into course design.

“The rules are different online. The online professor has to make a sincere effort to deliver or present an online teaching persona. It may come in different ways. From the way the online professor responds—in writing—to the entire class or the single student. It may be in the way the online professor expresses humor using emoticons or simply words. It might be in videos that introduce each week or chapter in the course,” Phillips says.

In Phillips’ view, one’s online teaching persona is so closely linked to course design that it is “difficult if at all possible” to establish one’s persona in a course designed by somebody else. “Teaching style and online teaching persona go hand in hand. No one teaches exactly like another. Adding your persona to a course you did not develop is a challenge.”

As for the tools he recommends for projecting one’s online teaching persona, “The introductory e-mail prior to the start of the course is a great way to begin to project your persona. It also begins the process of ‘swift trust’ (defined by Myerson, Weick, and Kramer (1996) as “a concept relating to temporary teams, teams whose existence is formed around a clear purpose, common tasks within a finite life span.”)

Using Web 2.0 tools and technologies also helps facilitate the persona. “I like to believe that synchronous and asynchronous video is the superior technology to deliver the online teaching” persona, Phillips says. “We are experimenting with different approaches to the introductory video … [and] of course, there are also tools like discussions, e-mail, synchronous and asynchronous meeting applications, and even audio in your PowerPoint presentations. Still photographs also carry a strong message. Adding a personal photograph to your course syllabus adds to the entire package.”

Like other aspects of online instruction, it’s important to determine what works and what doesn’t work in one’s courses in terms of instructional persona. “We don’t recommend radical changes to online courses once you begin. That’s going to create more turmoil. But it’s important to be able to communicate with the students—whether it is synchronous via chat or perhaps by using a survey instrument—to get at the heart of what’s going on.”

Meyerson, D., Weick, K., & Kramer, R. (1996). Swift trust and temporary groups. In R. M. Kramer & T. R. Tyler (Eds.), Trust in organizations: Frontiers of theory and research (pp. 166-195), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Excerpted from Online Classroom, January 2010, 8.