The top three requirements for designing an effective online course are all related to teacher presence. The teacher has to be present in the communication throughout the course, compiling or creating the course content, and the design of the course. Interestingly, these skills are more than some face-to-face classroom teachers possess right now. So it should not surprise anyone that teachers require training and education to attain the optimal level of an effective online instructor.

Communication: Teacher Presence, Especially Online

Terras, Mahar, Chiasson, Schroeder & Baker (2018) identify faculty support of students through communication as a factor in students at risk of dropping out persisting in enrollment. Tunks specifies that “instructor feedback, followed by the ability to engage students in discussions on relevant issues” fostered students’ success according to students (2012, p 5). The instructor is uniquely positioned to prevent isolation by designing a communication plan in advance of the start of the course. Faithfully following through on planned communication and flexibly responding to students demonstrating distress in the course.

In Teacher Presence in the (Online) Classroom, I discuss how to developed teacher presence in the online classroom using: discussion boards, announcements, and the structure of the course. Proactive planning of communication into the course is essential to develop early in the course construction; it does not happen seamlessly unless preplanned into the course construction.

Content: How Much is Too Much? Or Not Enough?

Much like Dietrich (2015) observes, the change between what constitutes work in a face-to-face setting does not seamlessly transfer to an online environment.  Dietrich’s issue of “how much work to expect from students” (2015, p 94) is particularly interesting because it underscores the current assumption that because students are physically present they are learning. Conversely, being present online is not enough to count as learning. Activities must be arranged around that presence.

Students must be provided with activities that make sense and build toward a large idea or product. All communications can push toward that idea or product. All content can support creating the concept or helping to collect ideas or resources for a product. Theme the course flow, but allow diversion from the plan if students feel strongly to follow another direction.

Course Design

The course designer, if not the course instructor, should compile predictable, patterned content to move the learning along and be able to predict what comes next. The order/number/type of items in a module or unit, the types of items online versus face-to-face, submission guidelines, your expectations for their troubleshooting responsibilities can all contribute toward your more at ease learners. Modules or units with a similar number of items, representing a similar amount of work, will help students learn how to pace the online work as they do face-to-face work. Similar items between classes, such as templates, help units, predictable ways to accomplish common tasks all teacher students how to learn online and diminish the number of things students are learning to, hopefully, just the content.


Dietrich, D. C. (2015, July). Observations of a Reluctant Online Instructor: Transitioning from the Classroom to the Computer. College Teaching, 63(3), 93-98. doi:10.1080/87567555.2015.1019824

Terras, K., Mahar, P., Chiasson, K., Schroeder, S., & Baker, M. (2018, September). Graduate Student Perceptions and Experiences with Connectivity in an Asynchronous, Online Distance Degree Program. Journal of Higher Education Theory & Practice, 18(4), 60-73.

Tunks, K. W. (2012, July). An Introduction and Guide to Enhancing Online Instruction with Web 2.0 Tools. Journal of Educators Online, 9(2), 1-16. doi:10.9743/JEO.2012.2.1