Instructor presence in online courses: a qualitative study of student and instructor perspectives
Online learning is experienced by students and instructors at many universities, and enrollment has continued to increase in recent years (Legon & Garrett, 2017; Legon & Garrett, 2018). Several researchers have identified elements of instructor presence or the various roles instructors play in courses (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, Richardson et al., 2015) and how those elements affect students (Hosler & Arend, 2012; Ladyshewsky, 2013; Lear et al., 2009; Ma, Han, Yang, & Cheng, 2014; Tanner, Noser, & Totaro, 2009). The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the perceptions of instructor presence and its effects on students through the lens of both instructors and students. Instructors and students in undergraduate online courses shared their experiences regarding the elements of instructor presence. Qualitative data were collected through individual instructor interviews, student participation in an individual interview or online qualitative survey, and end of semester student surveys. There were many consistencies between students and instructors of the same course. The two groups usually agreed on whether or not the course went well. In some courses, the instructor assumptions of what students experienced were in line with the students’ reports. There were, however, some discrepancies in areas such assessment feedback, grading practices, and web-conferences. Overall, study results showed that instructors and students find course organization and consistency to be beneficial in providing a good experience and keeping students on track. Instructors provided varying degrees of feedback on assessments, and some students indicated the desire for more detailed or timely feedback. Students and instructors indicated communication as vital for an online course. While not experienced often, technology issues can greatly deter a course. Several instructors expressed that they cared about the students’ success in their course and careers. Students shared their appreciation for instructors caring about them and how it affected their attitude toward or participation in the course. Instructors also showed that they cared about their students’ success beyond the classroom by taking steps to help students gain skills needed in their profession or discussing career options. Some students noted that they had applied course concepts in their jobs.