Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash

Presence is something I have been looking at in my own research on remote leadership. What many researchers have noticed is the challenge in building trust, energy and focus in online meetings. The usual argument is that there are “no bodies” in virtual meetings and that the sensorial cues are fewer. In our research we rather argue that there may be forms of sensorial fragmentations and that actors are made present in different ways on different scenes. What we usually take for granted in a meeting, presence, becomes an issue as it can no longer be just assumed.

It had not occurred to me that we could have looked at research on learning for digging deeper in the question of presence. Learning more about presence and online networked learning has therefore been interesting for my future work as teacher, but also for my research. To some extent, also when working with learning processes, presence can be taken for granted as long as the people involved in the process meet in the same room. But once you move online, presence needs to be constructed in order to make it possible to work as a community with shared learning processes.

The community of inquiry framework (Lipman, 2003) places attention to both individual reflection and collaborative learning. Building on it, different kinds of presences can be identified, all needed in order to make learning possible. Social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence (Vaughan et al, 2013). To this emotional presence can be added (see video here). This means that the teacher not only focuses on planning and carrying out activities that are aimed at making the students work on certain contents, but also on creating the proper atmosphere for these activities. This is about setting a climate supporting open communication and cohesion, as well as using the different spaces (online and f2f) for stimulating and supporting different ways of working (Vaughan et al, 2013). Facilitation becomes central in order to support shared learning and personally meangful individual focus in learning. It can be carried out by modelling and supporting those practices that lead to open communication and cohesion. Emotions play also a role. For instance, in the course we were all experiencing, although in different ways, the covid-19 pandemic and its consequences on our work. I think this has contributed to a certain atmosphere. As one of the members of our group said, in this chaotic period of time, the two meetings every Tuesday and Thursday became some kind of regular appointment that gave “pace” to these weeks.

Concluding, when working with teaching, and in particular online or blended learning, the teacher is not just entering a room in which to teach. Such a room needs to be constructed by the teacher and the students through course design, facilitation, technology, assessment.

Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in education. Cambridge University Press.

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press.

Making room for learning