The Role of Faculty Presence in Modern Student Engagement



With the shifting of modalities remaining uncertain in the world of education, the role of faculty presence in classrooms is something we need to talk about.


The "traditional" student no longer exists. Modern student engagement is imminent. Instructors should no longer be the "sultan on the stage." Before we dig into these topics, let's meet the speakers who led the wonderful discussion in our August 2021 webinar.


Meet The Speakers

The key speakers of this webinar were none other than the Yellowdig team themselves.

Natalie Murray, Learning Design and Success Advisor

At Yellowdig, Natalie supports learning design and is focused on student success outcomes. She fell in love with Higher Education when she found a passion for teaching in grad school. Natalie considers herself a lifelong learner.

Bob Ertischek, Senior Academic Liaison

Bob also came to Yellowdig with a higher education background. He realized that the tools offered for education didn’t support the kinds of engagement that he sought in the classroom, and tried many different solutions throughout his time teaching. He works at Yellowdig supporting instructors with their teaching journeys using the platform.

Natalie Ramos, Pilot Onboarding Specialist

Natalie came to Yellowdig after pivoting her focus from teaching middle science to EdTech. She found herself gravitating towards the world of technology in the classroom, and how it can make learning more interactive, engaging, and fun, and how it can help create social presence in a classroom.


The Community of Inquiry Model

The complete educational experience can be represented in three pieces — the Teaching Presence, the Social Presence, and the Cognitive Presence.


The Social Presence seems to be the piece of the puzzle that many tend to overlook, but in terms of modern student engagement, it plays an immensely important role in the educational experience. Bob explains, “It’s the piece that allows students to learn from each other, to share perspectives, to bring relevance into what they’re learning.”




Social Tools & Physical Proximity ≠ Social Presence

In other words, the prompted assignments that instructors often give, post once, comment twice, is typically meant to be that “social interaction” between students, but students are really just responding and trying to impress the instructor. They are not truly engaging in meaningful interactions with other students.



In a face-to-face class, you may be thinking “We’re all in the same room, there must be good social presence,” and it certainly is social, but that’s only through the lens of the instructor. You have to ask yourself “Are students actually forming deep connections with their peers and instructors?”



Time is so limited in the classroom, so not all students have the opportunity to really engage in social interaction. “Oftentimes, those people in the front row or the back row, even if they’re deeply engaged, they may not have the opportunity to really share perspectives,” Bob says.


Social presence is an extremely important aspect in building a strong learning community that is often neglected.


“Humans are agents in any social system, free to choose whether and how to participate. Social Presence is an accumulation of instructor and student behaviors where every student impacts the learning of every student.”

Faculty Presence in Communities

Simply put, instructor presence means “being there” for your class. Instructors should also be actively engaged, not just present.


One of the most important things an instructor can do is set expectations for students. Let the students know what the course is about, what the purpose of the community is. At Yellowdig, we encourage instructors to look at the communities being instructor-modeled, instead of being instructor-lead.


"Share your passion about the content, model what you want your students to do, & allow the personality of the course shine through!" — Dr. Kathleen E. Padilla

Everyone is a citizen of the community, and students have the opportunity to freely share their passions and thoughts with others. Instead of being a judge on the sidelines only awarding grades, instructors should take the opportunity to express their passion about their course topics by engaging in the community. Bob points out that “When students know you’re interested in what you’re doing, it makes a big difference.”



Students also want to know that their instructors are there. To have that instructor presence, and to know that the instructors know what they’re doing, allows students to feel that the course is not just busywork. Students need a purpose for doing the work, and they need to know that they are going to learn something from doing the work. A quick comment on a student’s post can go a long way.



However, another thing to keep in mind is that “instructor presence does not mean instructor domination.” In most cases, when the instructor inserts themself into a student conversation, the result is often that the conversation turns strictly to the instructor. With the help of Yellowdig’s accolades, the option to have the instructor’s presence there to show what kinds of behaviors they want to see and to flag what’s important, without disrupting the student conversations


Natalie Murray adds, “Be that community citizen if you want your students to be active. Be activists as well. And remember, we still live in a world where those reactions, those thumbs-ups, or those smiley faces — you know, the fun emojis — they make us feel good.” By having an instructor give that thumbs-up in a conversation, or award an accolade, is affirming and encouraging without being disruptive.


What is Engagement in a Yellowdig Community?

In Yellowdig, the role of the instructor really takes place throughout the weeks of the course, where the instructor doesn’t start all of the discussions at the beginning of the week. In the left graph below, there is the infamous “sultan on the stage,” where the instructor gives out discussion “assignments," and doesn't encourage true discussion.



In a Yellowdig community, with all the different ways you can help support engagement, the instructors actually become a community citizen.


Something important to know about our pedagogy is that “in Yellowdig, a true learning community, is that conversations can ebb and flow, can re-emerge, when they become important, when there’s something in the real world that’s happening related to the course material.”



The idea that instructors can learn from their students, and learn stuff about the world the instructors wouldn’t have known, gives an opportunity to learn where the students are and adjust their teaching by seeing the types of conversations the students are having.


Using communities in a way that allows students to share their thoughts in a less formal way ensures that there’s a cycle of learning and improvement and moving on.


“The time of transferring knowledge is gone, the time to jointly create knowledge with facilitated discourse is the need of the hour.”


There’s a lot more that our amazing speakers touched on in the full webinar, so be sure to watch the recording with the link here: https://youtu.be/KXICKdVyRlA



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