Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Worksheet for Instructor Role, Presence in Online Courses

The language of presence:  I am here, you are there, we are here together, we are there for each other. One way to think about presence (Suter, 2011):

Sense of place

Social presence

Individual power to do (individual agency)

Community power to do (community agency)


Presence is an ongoing process, is always dynamic and emergent, occurs in a moment and over time, involves experiences  (most often, doing with others), the process is both objective (can be observed) and subjective (sensed and felt).What are the characteristics, experiences or environment that have made you feel most “present” in a course?The design for presence is influenced by the nature of course content, format, interactive strategies, the role the instructor plays and their understanding of what learning is.
Sense of place:There is a “there”, there.(There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place.)


Instructor role: to create a space, and map the space (“physical” and conceptual). Create a “physical” space (in the learning management system environment) that is orderly and easy to navigate, with all the necessary resources. Create a visual conceptual space for the course, mapping out the course path.
Sense of social presence:We are here, together with others (communicating and interacting socially and supporting each other).  Instructor role: to create a socially rich and active environment, and facilitate experiences that enable learners to interact with each other socially and emotionally in a genuine manner.
Sense of individual agency:I am here, I am visible, I have individual power and control, and can make a difference to the whole.  Instructor role: to create learning experiences that provide authentic choices to students, allow for self-direction, provide feedback, make sure every learner’s contribution and thinking are “visible” (recognized as valuable), and provide an environment where learners can “start, create and validate meaning through reflection” (Lehman & Conceicao, 2010).
Sense of community agency:We can work together, in collaboration, to create new meaning for ourselves and each other.   Instructor role:  to set the “rules,” model the norms, provide real possibility of group action through authentic group projects,  ensure that teams negotiate team contracts, ensure that team grades have an individual performance component, create environment for generative dialogue, and provide tools for collaboration.

Lehman, R.M. & Conceicao, S.C. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Suter, V. (2011). I am here – Are you there? Sense of presence and implications for virtual world design. (Doctoral dissertation, Pepperdine University).  Retrieved from

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