Before teaching at University of Phoenix, I used to take students with me on short-term international health-care missions. It was during these missions that students were immersed in a different country and culture, which is quite overwhelming to young students who are accustomed to all the modern amenities. They must step back in time to experience a totally different culture, which includes basic living conditions and different cultural norms. This is a time where students need my guidance the most. And, it was where I learned the importance of faculty presence.
I define presence in my class as being available to listen to my students’ concerns and to assist them in designing methods to help alleviate their reactions to their new environment. Presence also values the human dignity and uniqueness of the other person in the interaction. As a nursing professional, presence is considered essential to the practice of holistic nursing.
Spice up your discussions
In my nursing courses, every learning interaction is an opportunity for me to be present. Whether it’s in the traditional classroom, in the online setting, or other situations, presence is essential to the faculty/student relationship. Presence means more than meeting the course objectives. It’s a mutual sharing of experiences and goals.
The faculty’s presence means finding innovative strategies to engage and encourage meaningful dialogue among faculty and students. For students who actively contribute to the discussions, faculty are better able to gain an accurate interpretation of the students’ grasp of knowledge. Therefore, presence benefits both the educator and the learner.
Customizing it to the class
In my online course, “Influencing the Future of Nursing and Health Care,” I ask my students to post a brief biography of their personal and professional lives. Then, I make it a point to respond to every one of my students’ postings. This provides a connection between us and helps demonstrate my interest in them as individuals, not just as students.
Even though I sometimes meet my students only online, they know I’m present because I’m able to have a digital version of the conversation we would have in an in-person setting. Through regular communication such as the discussion questions online, email and phone correspondence, these digital conversations have prompted lively interactions.
One such example included a student responding to a discussion question, “I love this discussion thread. Let me play the devil’s advocate here…”. Other students have commented that their colleagues made a good team and wished they would be moving together for the next class. This has allowed for me to make my presence known, and for my students to make their presence felt as well.
Get students involved
While it’s important that every student can directly communicate with me, students communicating with one another improves our ability to overcome the challenges of teaching online. At the end of all my courses, students submit a course summary which gives them the opportunity to provide their perspective of the course dynamics, and what content they would add or modify that would enhance their learning. Their comments help me prepare for the next course and better my presence for the next group of students.
And even though my students and I use so much technology, I still feel the kind of interaction that I had with my students on those health-care missions. I believe that this feeling of presence—the therapeutic use of self—is essential in every human relationship.
Hessel, J. A. (2009). Presence in nursing practice: A concept analysis. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(5), 276-281.