Faculty Focus


Instructor’s Personality: An Essential Online Course Component

An instructor’s “digital” personality can influence student achievement, retention or completion, and satisfaction with courses, says Todd Conaway, an instructional designer at Yavapai College in Arizona. This is why he encourages instructors to infuse their personalities into their online courses. A growing number of tools and technologies can help.

Whether or not you make a conscious effort to project your personality into your online courses, students draw inferences about you through whatever information about you is available to them.

“Some [instructors’ digital personalities] are just very, very flat and lacking in information,” Conaway says. This can be due to the instructor’s underestimation of the importance of this aspect of his or her courses or lack of confidence and/or experience in the online environment. The persona you present online can affect the online classroom in the following ways, Conaway says:

  • Student satisfaction: “Student satisfaction, persistence, and achievement are all influenced by the relationships they develop in courses. Any event is influenced by how we feel about the experience. Humanistic theory would agree that we would choose to stay in environments that feel safe, comfortable, and rewarding,” Conaway says.
  • Learning: “Transactional distance research suggests that we get more from those we interact with. In online education, that distance can be closed by interacting with students. That interaction does not have to be an email or discussion thread. It could be the interaction they have with your website or an image of you, or a video clip. I think that instructor presence leads to the potential for deeper learning.”
  • Interaction: “Role modeling interaction with students in the class is more likely to create student-to-student interaction. It’s the same with the online class. Of course, in the online environment there are students who choose that delivery because they do not have to interact as much. Very independent learners shy away from those student interactions. Learning styles and a student’s comfort with social situations vary, but I think role modeling frequent and quality interaction is very important.”

Here are some steps that Conaway recommends for expressing your digital personality in order to enhance the learning experience:

  • Include some biographical information in your course. Course management systems have spaces for instructor information. The default setting typically includes space for a small photograph of the instructor, office hours, and an email address. As a first step toward improving on this, Conaway recommends including more information on that page—a few photographs, descriptions of hobbies and interests.
  • Consider students’ expectations. Today’s students are typically quite familiar with interactive technologies and expect their instructors—especially online instructors—to understand and use technologies that promote interaction as well.
  • Explore new technologies. “Just looking at what has happened to the capabilities of the Internet and computers in the past ten years should be enough to guide us in what we should be doing. YouTube tells us we can create videos and share them with our students. That content that once could only be played in the classroom or living room on VHS tape can now be placed in your online class. Social networking sites tell us that our students do want to communicate with each other. The recent developments in open courseware tell us that there are instructors all over who have great information to share, and we can incorporate it into our courses. The Internet is not just scrolling text anymore. We need to use its capabilities to address learning styles and promote interaction,” Conaway says.
  • Create a Web page. Some students will want to know more about you. If they do a Web search and don’t find much about you, they make take this as an indication that you are not very tech savvy, which as an online instructor is not a good impression to make, Conaway says. In addition to serving as a space to convey your personality, a personal Web page is also a great place to put reusable resources for your courses—handouts, links, etc.

Excerpted from Instructor’s Personality: An Essential Online Course Component, Online Classroom, Jan. 2009, p. 1,5.