chapter  6
14 Pages

Teaching Presence

The online and blended learning environment increases access and extends interaction. To be constrained by the closed traditional classroom is to ignore the capabilities and potential of e-learning. While it is clear that the communication technologies associated with online and blended learning provide enormous opportunities and choice for connection and reflection, it also presents significant challenges associated with designing and delivering a meaningful and worthwhile educational experience. The educational opportunities of the Internet and communication technologies present choices that require informed leadership if learning is to be purposeful and developmental. Implicit in this is the need to rethink the purpose, approach and nature of the educational transaction. The expanded connectivity of e-learning has seen a shift toward collabora-

tive constructivist approaches associated with critical thinking and discourse. This is a learnING-centered approach rather than a learnER-centered approach. From an educational perspective, this distinction is more than a subtlety or nuance. Education is a collaborative process where educators and students have important shared responsibilities. The focus is on learning but not just whatever interests the learner (a risk of the Internet). An educational experience is intended to focus on learning experiences that have societal value as well as the ability for the individual to grow and continue learning. To focus excessively on learner interests (learner-centered approach) risks marginalizing the important educational responsibilities of a knowledgeable teacher. In an educational experience, both the learner and educator are integral participants in the learning process. The role and responsibility of teaching presence is to monitor and manage the transactional balance, and by engaging the learners, collaboratively guide the process of achieving worthwhile and intended learning outcomes in a timely manner. Dewey (1938) addressed the need for purpose, structure and leadership.

The educator must establish aims and activities while not being straightjacketed by them. In this regard, the educational leader must be focused but flexible as inquiry unfolds and new questions arise. The educational leader must be knowledgeable from both a content and pedagogical perspective

while being comfortable with uncertainty. Accepting of uncertainty as a natural dynamic of a worthwhile educational experience allows the educator to adjust to the needs of the learners while considering the purposeful nature of the learning experience. In this regard, Dewey (1933) stated, “thought needs careful and attentive educational direction” (p. 22). Dewey (1938) also recognized that this required developing appropriate social relationships and the social environment of the learning community. As such, teaching presence is an enormously important but complex responsibility that requires sustained adjustment. Learning-centered approaches are more than simply re-assigning responsi-

bility and control to the learner. This is a violation of the intent and integrity of an educational experience and the responsibility to design, facilitate and direct a constructive learning process. Teaching presence performs an essential role in identifying relevant societal knowledge, creating learning experiences that facilitate reflection and discourse, and diagnosing learning outcomes. In an online learning environment this is both easier and more difficult. It is easier in the sense that the e-learning medium supports sustained and reflective dialogue. However, it is more difficult in that online learning has distinctive communication characteristics that require new approaches and adjustments. In particular, it demands a collaborative approach that recognizes and encourages the assumption and development of teaching presence in all the participants. To establish appropriate teaching presence, it is necessary to go beyond a

list of best practices or techniques for e-learning. More effort and creativity must go into understanding and appreciating the integrating element of teaching presence to facilitate critical thinking and higher-order learning outcomes within a collaborative e-learning context.