The Three Presences Involved in Building an Online Learning Community
Key Takeaways from Dr. Catlin Tucker’s Session “Creating Clarity for Online Teaching & Learning”
What is a learning community, and how might teachers and students create one when they’re not in a shared space together?
That was the question Dr. Catlin Tucker posed to the audience during her session titled “Creating Clarity for Online Teaching & Learning,” which took place as part of McGraw Hill’s Celebrating Early Literacy series on February 17.
In her session, Dr. Tucker delved into the notion of a learning community, and the aspects that frame them. A learning community is a collaboration between teacher and student — a place where goals are shared, the purpose of learning is articulated, and classroom cultures are cultivated. It is a place that is built on mutual trust and respect, where students are legitimate partners in their learning journey, where educators prioritize feedback and encourage kids to engage in conversation and collaboration. Where everyone in the community can capitalize on collective intelligence no matter where or when learning takes place.
How might an educator start to construct this type of online learning community? According to Dr. Tucker, it starts with three presences:
The teaching presence in an online learning community helps the teacher define their main roles and responsibilities. The goal is to reimagine this role. We should steer away from teacher-centered classrooms where the educator is the expert transferring information and instead adopt a student-centered model where the educator is a facilitator, connected with and to all the learners.
To achieve this, there are three different roles the teacher takes on:
- Designer: the architect of learning experiences. These experiences may be synchronous, asynchronous, or blended, but should all be designed through the lens of the four C’s of 21st-century learning: they should prioritize critical thinking; they should engage students in communication, encourage collaboration, and promote creativity. There should be plenty of opportunities to collect formative assessment data and determine student progress, which becomes even more important when teaching from a distance. Additionally, these learning experiences should prioritize student agency, and provide options for differentiation. And finally, the designer role must help build background knowledge with collaborative research.
- Instructor: the subject matter expert. Students need to hear the teacher explaining and modeling, but the more time the teacher talk, the less time they have to connect with their students. Teachers can be effective online instructors who make room for student agency and productive struggle through strategies like asynchronous video recordings, synchronous video conferencing, flexible grouping strategies, and dynamic small group design.
- Facilitator: the learning partner and coach. In this role, educators help students flex their metacognitive muscles through goal setting, progress monitoring, and frequent one-on-one conferences and feedback sessions. These approaches allow students to take ownership over their learning and progress while knowing they have a partner to assist them whenever they need it.
The cognitive presence is a students’ ability to project their social and emotional selves into the online learning environment. They must feel free and comfortable to express their ideas, opinions, and beliefs in the learning space, and engage in authentic conversations. When the social presence is fully supported, students shift from consumers to producers in the learning space.
Teachers can nurture the social presence in an online learning community by facilitating:
- Online meetings and discussions that allow students to connect with peers virtually
- Purposeful conversations around complex issues and texts
- Discussion and discourse that exposes students to different perspectives and drives deeper thinking
These kinds of approaches enable open and purposeful communication, affective expression, and group cohesion, while also improving understanding and retention of the material.
The cognitive presence allows students to construct and confirm meaning through their individual learning process and through interactions with their learning community. This happens through a triggering instructional event — such as a question that piques their interest and curiosity and urges them to explore. To answer the question, they may turn to their peers for help, overcome misconceptions and gaps, and work together to find the resolution.
To enable the cognitive presence, teachers should think about the 5 E Instructional Model:
- Engage: This involves brainstorming, asking questions, and accessing prior knowledge
- Explore: Students will conduct research, watch videos, and read articles
- Explain: This includes engaging in live synchronous sessions and watching video lessons
- Elaborate: Students will make connections, apply learning to new or novel situations, explain how, and create their own study materials and resources
- Evaluate: through tools like formative assessments, video reflections, or digital exit tickets
In her session, “Creating Clarity for Online Teaching & Learning,” Dr. Catlin Tucker discussed how building an effective and accessible online learning community requires the blending of these three presences: teaching, cognitive, and social. As the teacher begins to build their online community, they should be mindful of each presence and the unique role it plays.
The most critical aspect of online teaching is maintaining that connection and relationship with students. Second most is an instructional design that makes room for a high degree of student agency. Allow student curiosity to drive their learning as they explore skills that will enable their success both on and offline. Leverage the best aspects of face-to-face and remote learning, and encourage open discussion and discourse.
And, finally, remember that everyone — teacher, parent, administrator, and student — is learning right now. As teachers begin this exercise, they must remember to be patient with themselves. Embracing a “less is more” mentality, and leaning on peers and colleagues for support, can help mitigate the stress and frustration that can come in hand with remote instruction.
Learn how our comprehensive 6–12 ELA curriculum, StudySync, empowers educators as they facilitate remote instruction:
Dr. Catlin Tucker is a Google Certified Innovator, best-selling author, international trainer, and keynote speaker. She is an expert in the fields of blended and online learning. Catlin has published a collection of best-selling books on blended learning, including Blended Learning in Grades 4–12, Blended Learning In Action, Power Up Blended learning, and Balance With Blended Learning. She is active on Twitter @Catlin_Tucker and writes an internationally ranked education blog at CatlinTucker.com. You can also learn more through her podcast, The Balance. Catlin Tucker is dedicated to helping teachers blend technology and tradition to shift students to the center of learning and find balance in their teaching practice!