I Am Not a Robot

robotic teacher presents information in front of chalkboard

When students enroll in online classes, they are often wary and a bit intimidated by the experience. There are a multitude of concerns such as assignment quality/rigor, technology and the course management system, course design, the expected workload, and their personal time management. One of the greatest concerns, and one which affects all the others, is professor presence on the course (Price, Price & Hayes, 2018).

Professor presence, as defined by Anderson, et al., is “the design facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (2001, p.5). Professors should consider the implications of their role in online social presence as essential for student satisfaction in the online environment. Such interaction leads to greater student-professor communication and positive relationships.  This, in turn, facilitates student academic success (Song, Kim & Park, 2019).

Online instructors themselves should be considered as one of the most vital elements of the course. Instructors should view themselves as crucial as the technology they are using in the course. The following categories may help online professors visualize their presence in tangible ways and may be used in any online course, discipline, and level.


“Screenomics” is defined as “a unique individual record of experiences that constitute psychological and social life on digital devices with screens” (Reeves, et al., 2019) and indicates how consumers daily interact with their devices.  Reeves (2019) revealed that a consumer switches among applications, functions, and types of media (including social) within seconds. Each person has a specific, individualized “screenome” (taken from the term genome). Using this information, researchers can determine how a person constructs his or her individual digital story every second. Many online learning platforms (D2L, Blackboard, etc.) can display when students access information on the site, time spent there, and what they accessed. Just as people weave their digital experiences, the student is performing the same process in the online educational environment. Based on a student’s digital behavior on the course, the instructor may better tailor assignments (such as how long it takes to read items the student has posted), adjust activities according to student assignment interaction, or make changes based on the student’s screenome.

Communication and Framing

The ways in which communication occurs has evolved using new digital communication techniques. Email, texting, chat apps, social media, and video encompass faster and immediate communication. Considering these almost habitual behaviors, online educators may implement these newer forms of communication into their own online learning environment. Students are accustomed to immediate responses from family, friends, and others, so this conditioned behavior is expected within an online course. The professor can provide a personalized experience for the student. Examples include prompt response time to emails, video chat opportunities, virtual office hours, phone calls, audios to explain assignments, blogs, and a personal introduction video. These approaches communicate with the student faster and more efficiently, contributing greater presence of the professor in the online environment.

How online educators present themselves to the student, or how they frame themselves, impacts positive behaviors on the course and opens the lines of communication even further. How instructors frame themselves (talking about pets, hobbies, etc.) impacts student perception of the course in general.


By providing online professor presence within these three constructs, the instructor has created an improved personalized online educational environment where the student can have a more purposeful education experience and perceive that the instructor is, in fact, a caring individual. Impactful online professor presence presents the professor as more human.  It also impacts how students use digital spaces and digital learning similarly in both traditional and online educational environments. By providing a strong online professor presence, the educator has facilitated student engagement, encouraged active learning, and invited student empowerment.

A few challenges are worth nothing. First, the online instructor should be aware of the time it takes to produce some of the concepts. Additional time must be spent when developing audios for assignment, which may change from semester to semester. Video chats can sometimes turn into hour long conversations and writing an immediate individual assignment response may take time from other instructor projects. Additionally, one must consider the limitations of the online learning platform used by the institution. Some platforms will not house long audios or videos with closed captioning.

The modern student is one who is digitized and constantly uses technology daily. When standing in line, a student can check email, write a text, see the current location of an anticipated package delivery, check social media, and tell their digital assistant to put laundry detergent on the shopping list. As students construct their individual screenome every single day, these behaviors become habitual and merge into other aspects of their lives. This same construction of behaviors may be developed in the online learning environment, as well. By removing the barrier of mystery regarding the human nature of the professor, students may feel more invited to learn in their own space, on their own time. With these deliberate and intentional additions to a course, professor presence will be as much of the online course as the syllabus itself.

Bios: Dr. Kelly Price completed her PhD in Human Ecology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a concentration in Retail and Consumer Sciences. She completed an MA in Professional Communications with a concentration in Public Relations and a BS in Fashion Merchandising from East Tennessee State University. She is a three-time winner of the College of Business and Technology Excellence in Teaching award.

Dr. Julia Price completed her EdD in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at East Tennessee State University. She received her Master of Arts Degree from East Tennessee State University in Education and her Bachelor of Arts from Carson-Newman University in Elementary Education. She is a recipient of the University Research Award.


T. Anderson, L. Rourke, R. Garrison, and W. Archer, “Assessing Teaching Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context,” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 5, no. 2 (2001).

K. Price, J. Price and D. Hayes, “Online Doctoral Students at a Faith-Based University: Concerns of Online Education,” NET: An eJournal for Faith-Based Distance Learning,: http://www.distancelearningdirectors.org/research-publications/ejournal/issues/

B. Reeves, N. Ram, T. Robinson, J. Cummings, C. Giles, J. Pan, A. Chiatti, M. Cho, K. Roehrick, X. Yang, A. Gagneja, M. Brinberg, D. Muise, Y. Lu, M. Luo, A. Fitzgerald and L. Yeykelis, “Screenomics: A Framework to Capture and Analyze Personal Life Experiences and the Ways that Technology Shapes Them,” Human-Computer Interaction (March 2019) https://doi.org/10.1080/07370024.2019.1578652

H. Song, J. Kim and N. Park, “I know my professor: Teacher Self-disclosure in online education and a mediating role of social presence,” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 35, no. 6 (2019): 448-455.