eCoaching Tip 1 Interaction and “Virtual Presence” — Being There for Your Students

January 15 2006 (Refreshed June 28 2012; reviewed Nov 14 2018)

E-Coaching Tip 1: Interaction and “Virtual Presence” — Being There for Your Students

What do online learners wait for, hope for, and savor when they see it? Comments, questions and affirmations from their instructor.  Learners depend on their instructor’s voice for staying in synch with what they are doing, for hints, insights and guidance, and for confirmation they are doing what they ought to be doing.

This tip on presence is first in this tip library because it is one of the most important ways of ensuring student learning and satisfaction. Being present is also the “first” of the set of best practices. (Boettcher, 2006-2018.)

Above all else when teaching online, you want to be  “present” for your students.  By being present, using acknowledgements, hints, comments, and questions, your students know you are learning along with them and are actively listening to what they are saying and thinking and that you care about them.

Here are a few ways that you can be truly “present” in online and blended courses, even when you don’t enjoy the comfort and feedback of physical presence.

How important is Interaction as a key element of satisfaction for learners?

Did you know that regular and timely interaction of faculty with students is one of the key quality indicators of online courses? A number of studies (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000; Swan, 2003) suggest that learner satisfaction about their online learning courses is directly linked to the “social presence” or “virtual presence” of their faculty member.

How can you be “present” for your students? Here are some of the ways:

  1. Use the Announcements section of your course web site for a quick hello, reminder, comment or alert about a current event or what’s next.
  2. Regularly post  “brief, yes I am listening,  comments” on the discussion board, related to assignment or discussions
  3. Regularly post  “substantive comments” on the discussion board, related to assignment or discussions

Hint:  Schedule a “virtual meeting” with yourself to “be present on” the discussion board checking on how your learners are doing. Check your course site every day for “criticals” and also set aside a regular time 3 or 4 days a week for more substantive comments and interactions.  These scheduled times with your class ensures that the days don’t get away from you.

Hint: When I am going to be visiting my course site for these almost daily check-ins, I play some of my favorite “thinking music” to help me focus.  Many faculty do this work while in their coffee offices or home offices.

4. Plan a live classroom collaborative time early in the term with your students. This is a good way to do an informal Q & A about the course and how it is going.  If your students are located in widely varying time zones—such as military serving abroad  or on opposite coasts (New York and California) you can hold a couple of these informal meetings and then archive them for review or initial viewing.

5. Be sure to provide an enriched bio of yourself that includes who you are as a person in addition to your “expert teaching self.” Linkages to your students’ intellectual efforts can build on shared geographical, family, or vacation experiences.

6. Set up a forum or discussion for open questions or comments. Be sure to channel all questions to a public place so that as you take time to respond to one student’s question other students hear your voice and feel your presence as you speak to others.

These examples are good starting points for “being there” for your students.

Three Kinds of Presence

Researchers at the University of Calgary (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000) have developed a model for presence, called the Community of Inquiry. This model separates the concept of presence into three different constructs or dimensions: social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence. Other tips in the library go into more detail on each of these three types of presence.


An early (1999) set of Guiding Principles for Faculty in Distance Learning developed by a Working Group of the Indiana Partnership for Statewide Education (IPSE) affirmed the need for multiple communication channels to counteract the “often-isolating nature of distance learning.”  We have in our hands now almost unlimited technological tools to use in online teaching and learning. We now just need to develop ways of using them wisely and well.


Boettcher, J. V. (2007 – 2018). Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online: Quick Guide for New Online faculty. Designing for Learning Tallahassee FL. Retrieved from

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, 11 (2),1-14.

Indiana Partnership for Statewide Education (IPSE). (1999) Guiding Principles for Faculty in Distance Learning. Retrieved June 28, 2012 from

Mabrito, M. (2004). Guidelines for establishing interactivity in online courses. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 1(2),. Retrieved November 14, 2018 from 1(2). 

Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness: what the research tells us. In J. Bourne & J. C. Moore (Eds) Elements of Quality Online Education, Practice and Direction. Needham, MA: Sloan Center for Online Education, 13-45. Retrieved June 27, 2012 from

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. These tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached  at judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2018