What is presence?
The simplest definition of presence is "being in a place." We sense the physical presence of other people through all of our senses. In a physical classroom, it's pretty clear who is or is not present -- although some people have a bigger impact than others. In an online class, it's possible for people to be logged in and aware of what is going on in the class space without leaving very much of a mark. Those people would be said to lack presence.
In an online class, we use all of the presence cues that a person provides to us in order to construct an impression of that person. The different types of evidence that construct this impression include how the person looks, how the person sounds, and the way in which the person uses language. While these clues are abundant in physical spaces, they can rather limited in online spaces -- but they don't have to be.
Why is presence important?
To explain why presence is so important in an online course, I've decided to share a personal story -- a true experience -- in the video below.
Reflect: How's your presence?
Take a moment to reflect on your experiences teaching online so far. What do your online students know about you? What kind of impression do you think they have? What words might they use to describe you?
Now think about what the impression you would like your online students to have. What words come to mind? Would you like them to think you are knowledgable? Approachable? Respectful? Friendly? Upbeat? Jot down these descriptors. You can use them as a guide to help remind you of your ideal presence.
Presence and the Community of Inquiry Framework
By Matbury - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32442058
The Community of Inquiry framework has been developed to explain the different types of presence that are important to have in an online course. In this framework, teaching, cognitive, and social presence come together to support the overall educational experience. To learn more about this framework, click on the link to read the original article in which Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) explain in detail how presence supports online learning.
Would you like to learn more about Community of Inquiry? There have been many studies done in this area, some of which are linked from the Community of Inquiry web site publication page.