Creating Presence Online

Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2000) suggest that successful online discussions require three elements: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence. 

    Recommended PracticesHow to do it
    Strategies to Establish Social Presence
    Model social presence so that students are more likely to be socially present as well  
    • Address students by name
    • Share your personal/professional experiences with your students
    • Post a discussion message to encourage participation (i.e., encourage individuals, encourage groups)  
    Make discussions a required (not optional) component
    • Assign 10% - 20% of course grade to discussion participation
    • (Note that assigning over 20% does not yield additional benefits)
    Strategies to Establish Cognitive Presence
    Model how to disagree
    • Explicitly state that it’s o.k. to disagree with others
    • Provide guidelines on how to respectfully disagree and model it in the discussion
    Prompt students to go beyond merely exchanging ideas to expanding on ideas, connecting, and applying ideas to other contexts

    Create prompts that encourage structured interactions and critical thinking and encourage students to
    • exchange, expand on, connect ideas
    • apply ideas to other contexts
    • Use problem-based prompts (focus on a problem related to the content area; students work together to create solutions)
    • Have students identify problems and generate solutions
    • Use debate prompts (provide a statement to which students must take a position)
    • Use prompts that encourage divergent responses (which arise from course material but are applied in other contexts) rather than convergent responses (which seek a narrow set of  correct responses)
    • Use the "Save The Last Word For Me" protocol where a few of the students find an important, complex quote or a passage from a reading; other students then provide their interpretation to 2 or more quotes posted. At the end of the week, the initial posters describe what they learned from the discussion
    • Use the "Starter/Wrapper" technique where one peer starts the discussion and another peer summarizes it at the end of the discussion.
    • For project-based discussions, create milestones and ask group members to reflect on work
    • Use socratic questioning to clarify thinking, challenge assumptions, have students support an argument or viewpoint, etc
    • Occasionally post using the challenging stance strategy (play devil’s advocate, highlight different opinions, prompt students to consider alternate viewpoints (overuse of this technique can make the discussion focused on the instructor
    • Post questions periodically, to deepen the discussion
    Strategies to Establish Teaching Presence
    Provide prompt, modest instructor feedback  
    • Too little feedback communicates a lack of instructor presence/interest
    • Too much feedback makes the discussion instructor-focused and can decrease students’ sense of ownership
    • Consider posting feedback as an audio or a video file to increase instructor presence and to convey tone
    Include peer facilitation
    • Start by modeling the discussion (at least two times) so that the peer facilitators know what to do
    Use protocol prompts to set clear goals, roles, rules for interaction, and due dates
    • Assign specific roles to peer facilitators
      • E.g., use the “starter-wrapper technique”
      • E.g., “save the last word for me” protocol


    deNoyelles, A., Zydney, J.M., & Chen, B. (2014). Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous discussions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 10(1), 153-165. 

    deNoyelles, A., Zydney, J.M., & Seo, K.K. (2015, April). Save the last word for me: Encouraging students to engage with complex reading and each other. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from 

    Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. Retrieved from 

    Garrison D.R. & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148. 

    Hall, B.M. (2015, April). You're asking the wrong question. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from 

    Questions for a Socratic Dialogue. Virginia Tech College of Engineering, Department of Computer Science. Retrieved from 

    Wu, D. & Hiltz, S.R. (2004). Predicting learning from asynchronous online discussions. JALN, 8(2), 139-152. 


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