Beyond Being There: Practices that Establish Presence, Engage Students and Influence Intellectual Curiosity in a Structured Online Learning Environment
To fully understand teaching presence and its implications for the intellectual climate of an online classroom it is necessary to explore the phenomenon from the perspective of the instructors who experience it. Informed by the theoretical perspective of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model, the actions, intentions and perceptions of instructors were investigated through a collective case study. The goal of this study was to examine the decision processes employed in establishing teaching presence in a structured online environment in order to make a contribution to the body of knowledge from a practical pedagogical perspective. Using the lived experiences of instructors enabled the exploration of the influence pedagogical choices had on the creation of an intellectual climate in the online context. Using semi-structured interviews as the main source of data, the study utilized the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) method as an analytical tool to address concerns of rigor in the qualitative interpretation of experiential data. Results of the collective case revealed student engagement and intellectual curiosity were influenced most greatly by an instructor’s active interest and passion for teaching, an ability to identify the relevance of course topics to the student, and the encouragement for a shared responsibility in the learning process. The findings showed that the shared goal of learning extended beyond the stated learning objectives and expected outcomes of a course and served as a foundation in the creation of authentic relationships between instructor and students. In addressing the overarching research question of how instructors establish teaching presence and inspire intellectual curiosity in a structured teaching environment, the findings of this study contribute to knowledge related to the nature of teaching presence and its role in setting an academic climate in an online classroom.