The Human Touch and Your Digital Personality

Author Information
Todd Conaway
Jill Schiefelbein
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Yavapai College
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Arizona State University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
South Mountain Community College
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Chandler-Gilbert Community College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Instructors who develop literacies that allow them to create and share the content they present in audio, video, images, and text create a richer environment for learning than do online instructors using only text to communicate in online courses. Today, there are tools that are accessible and available and allow an instructor’s passion and personality to shine through the online environment, and these practices do have a positive effect on student learning.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The human touch or an instructor's personality is visible to students in a variety of ways. It is made evident by written text, audio clips and videos created by the instructor. The instructor can appear in the online environment just as they do in a F2F environment. These practices by the instructor often lead to the use of these tools by students furthering the interactions and digital literacies of peers in online courses they take in the future. There has long been conversation about the notion of “instructor presence” in online learning and how it impacts student learning. Those conversations and practices are well documented and have come to be recognised as best practice in online instruction. From speedy response times to student emails, actively engaging in discussion forums, to adding detailed weekly announcements to a class, all of these are a part of the digital personality that instructors develop in a class.

The idea of a digital personality and adding a human touch to a class takes those best practices a step further by deeply integrating media and visible instructor passion into online courses. It asks instructors to not only develop the skills needed to place themselves more visibly in their courses, but to allow themselves to be who they are as people with hobbies, social interests, and even families. Often in the minutes before a class starts in a F2F class, the instructors and students engage in “small talk” about the weekend or topical events. In some ways, the digital personality instructors develop in online courses act as this “more than just the content” part of instruction and recognises that relationships are formed in these situations that do impact student motivation and learning.

In the digital personalities that instructors create in online classes there are some of the elements formed in social learning environments. Often an instructor can greatly impact a student lives by sharing ideas and experiences outside of the course content. These unrehearsed moments that are genuine reflections of who the teacher is a person, can benefit students and student interest in the course and motivation to complete coursework. These all help with student retention and engagement.

The digital personality encourages the use of time and relationship to “real world time” that is often absent in asynchronous online courses. For example, an instructor may share images from a trip they took over a weekend or comment about how a recent event relates to course content in a video or audio clip. The idea of “keeping the flowers fresh” relates to this as instructors are revising introductions to course content and adding new announcements to the class rather than reusing ones from prior semesters. All too often, the ease of duplication in the online environment leads to copying course content that become disassociated with real world time. An instructor that is actively developing new introductions to content allows student to see the content as fresh and developed with them in mind.

Many of the online tools available today aid in the display of personality. Be it an excited voice in an audio clip from AudioBoo, the raising and lowering of eyebrows in a YouTube video, or images from a visit to a national park in Flickr, all of these contribute to the presentation of a fuller and richer person to students. A human on the other end of an online class does make a difference in learning. And students’ ability to be a human and demonstrate their personality through these same technologies makes a significant impact on both their involvement in the course, their learning, and their knowledge retention.

Most of the tools needed to add, deepen, or enhance instructor personality are free and easily accessible. As trends in hybrid and flipped environments move forward, these tools and how they are used by instructors make them easily placed in any web space, including mobile learning. Most of the tools that best describe a person--text, video, and audio--are all freely available in multiple forms, from free to paid, and available in both PC and Mac platforms.

Screen-capturing tools like Jing and the ability to easily voice-over images, student work, or PowerPoint content allows instructors to add voice and personality to the content they present. Be these math problems, historic images, maps, or current events, instructors can easily add narration, their voice and the personality that goes along with it. The personal touch that makes learning salient for students.

These tools are not specific to higher education but can be used in the K12 community as well.

The tools and the content they create are especially replicable and shareable. Adding another instructor’s lecture to a YouTube playlist, linking to open content on the web, or having students search out content and applying it to the topic at hand are all ways to increase multimedia usage, add personality, and increase knowledge retention through application. Often these links to content created by other instructors or anyone can demonstrate some element of personality. For example, using comic strips or a video of a comedian might help explain a piece of content and share a bit about how the instructor sees the content. Valuable insights for students who are currently only viewing content through their individual lens.

These tools and the addition of more “personality” in online courses is already happening and will continue to happen as the accessibility, affordability, and ability to use these tools increases among students and teachers alike. Much like the Google Apps use in K12 communities, the tools available to teachers and students includes the ability to create and store videos, images, and audio in cloud based locations. Often these tools are already in use by students who then find themselves in dry and text based courses. Not to imply text based is a bad thing, but these other media can be used to accentuate learning activities and engage learners.

These activities and the creation of content exemplify what we have come to know as the “web 2.0” and how it can be leveraged in academic environments. These tools and how they are employed in classrooms share the very essence of the complexity and inter-relatedness of the internet. The tools often cross the boundaries of personal and professional lives. For example, teacher who use photosharing sites for course content collections may well use them for family outings and their own interests outside the classroom. In many cases these tools that enrich the classroom also enrich the lives of both the students and faculty who use them. Facebook is a good example of how the connectedness can flourish across time and space. Diigo groups can extend beyond the end of the semester and students may visit the YouTube channel of an instructor long after the class is over to find more information about a class topic. The scope of these tools and how they are used goes beyond the classrooms and into the personal lives of the students and teachers. And when learning becomes personal, information gets remembers, and knowledge becomes shared, producing more engaged and informed citizens who can contribute positively to our society.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

The instructors who we have contact with clearly state that courses they teach where they are using these tools have more engaged students, better retention, and better student work and grades. At this point, our best guesses are anecdotal in nature. There is one report from Yavapai College that demonstrate the use of Tegrity, a lecture capture software, points toward higher retention of students and higher student grades. Most of the publicly available evidence is around the notion of “presence” not necessarily “personality.” While we see differences in the tools that may be used in these two areas, they are very similar and the evidence supporting increased instructor presence in online classes leading to a better overall student learning experience is clear.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Students who are engaged in the course tend to have higher retention rates and do better in assessments. The learning effectiveness in this effective practice impacts not only students, but the instructors learning. Teachers who role model active learning, in this case web based tools, have a positive impact on learning. The nature of the tools used to create and enhance instructor personality scale in any environment. Whether the course had 10 students or 100, the content created by instructors can be delivered to any one with an internet connection. Most of the web 2.0 tools are easily accessible. In fact, many are more accessible when outside the LMS. Faculty who feel connected and feel engaged in the classroom are more likely to feel satisfaction from the teaching environment. The student satisfaction certainly is impacted as one of the greatest challenges to online learning is the perceived distance and lack of community and connection to the class. Faculty who are “close” to the class by being present offer students a richer environment for learning.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Either a webcam for a built in camera on a laptop helps making video and capturing audio. Most computers come with microphones. These tools are almost all web based and content can be created on any computer with an internet connection by simply creating a free account.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Most of the tools needed either come with average computers or cost less than fifty dollars. Some of the software that can help, like Camtasia or Articulate are more expensive. many of the tools, like owning your own domain to share and house content are also relatively inexpensive. By and large, to add audio, video, and images to your online class is free.

References, supporting documents: 
Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Todd Conaway
Email this contact:
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Jill Schiefelbein
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