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This image is the New Instructor Resources page title bar. Like all title bars of the Faculty and Staff Support site, it is black and shows a picture of an instructor assisting a student.

Virtual Presence

About this Page

Virtual presence is extremely important, especially in an online environment where the feeling of isolation can make a student feel lost. Imagine what it would feel like if an instructor walked into an on-ground class and didn't say anything to the students.  Instead, the instructor would write some text on the board, pass out journal articles, hand out assignments, and then leave.  That would seem extremely awkward and the students would feel like they were on their own. Similar to on-campus instructors, online instructors need to make sure their presence is known and their guidance is spot on. 

On this page, you'll better understand how

  • to establish online presence in the following ways:

    • through the Bulletin Board

    • by participating in discussion forums

    • through videos

    • when giving assignment feedback

    • using email

  • how the Graduate School evaluates instructor presence and course quality

Types of Online Presence

​There are various ways to establish presence in an online course.  Here are the various ways we suggest to establish presence:

  • Bulletin Board – We suggest posting on Monday to talk about the upcoming topics. Posting when the grading is done for the previous week is also beneficial as it prompts students to check their grades and feedback from the instructor.  Instructors can post links to videos or upload relevant images to humanize messages.  Be aware that messages from the Bulletin Board are also sent to students' emails. Sending too many messages through this area may overwhelm students, so craft well thought-out messages. 

  • Course Discussion Forums – In an on-campus course, it is expected that the students to carry the discussion but the instructor may chime in when needed.  For example, if students get off topic, give misinformation, or are not diving deep into the content, the instructor help funnel the direction of the conversation. Finding that balance between posting too much vs not posting enough can be tricky.  Many instructors are active the first few weeks to model how students should engage in the discussion, but if the instructor reduces involvement, they should notify students of the plan. This will help students from feeling like the instructor disappeared. Remember that judging the right frequency of postings is as important as the quality of the posts.  Posts should challenge students to dive deeper in the content and construct new knowledge.

  • Questions for Instructor Forum - Be aware that the Questions for Instructor forum is a place for students to bring up concerns, questions about the content, or technology issues.  To address students' needs promptly, please make sure to subscribe to the forum. When you subscribe to a forum, you are sent alerts through email when someone posts.  You may want to subscribe to this forum ONLY so that you are not overwhelmed by the amount of alerts the course discussion forums will produce.  To learn how to subscribe to a forum, refer to the Populi Training for Instructors VT. 

  • Videos- Videos are a great way to humanize a course and create a connection between students and instructor.  Videos can be used to give a weekly intro, deliver a course lecture, liven up a discussion forum, or give assignment feedback.  Creating videos can be time-consuming and something you may want to take on the second time you teach a course. To learn about different ways to create videos, contact the instructional designer/educational technologist.  

  • Assignment Grades and Feedback - Posting grades within one week after the due date is expected at HBFGSAS.  Sometimes this is unrealistic when large papers are turned in.  In this case, please let the students know when their grades will be posted for that assignment.  Giving feedback is also important.  Instructors can give feedback in the assignment submission area, within the assignment/paper, or in the electronic rubric. Again, the quality of the feedback is just as important as giving feedback.

  • Email - Instructors can email or text the whole class at the same time using Populi.  Communication styles depends on the instructor AND the needs of the students. Crafting well thought-out messages is key, so not to overwhelm students with too many emails and to model professional writing.

Evaluation of Instructor Presence and Course Quality

Sometimes it is hard to know when you are hitting the mark, especially when you are in a new position or teaching a new course.  The Graduate School is constantly evaluating course quality, instructor presence, and student success.  In new courses, courses with a new instructor, or instructors that need more assistance in hitting the mark, quality is evaluated weekly by the instructional designer and the interim assistant dean, during the 6th week of the course by students, and at the end of the course by students.  This feedback will be given to the deanor interim assistant dean to discuss with the instructor during certain points of the term. As the instructor excels, the amount of the evaluations decrease with time.

Course Audits

The weekly evaluations are conducted by the instructional designer/educational technologist along with the dean or interim assistant dean.  The following areas are examined to determine where the instructor exhibits course presence, the frequency of those interactions, and the quality of the presence: 

  • Bulletin Board

  • Course Email

  • Assignment Grades

  • Assignment Feedback

  • Discussion Forums (Including the Questions for the Instructor forum)

  • Electronic Rubrics

*Please note that instructors are not expected to be present in all these ways, but be present in ways that are meaningful to their students and consistent.

Mid-Semester Evaluations

During Week 6 of selected courses, students are asked to complete a survey to determine the quality of their experience.  The following questions are asked in three different areas:


The Course Design

  • What about the course design and materials (Populi lessons, discussions, quizzes, videos, assignments, readings, etc.) have been most helpful to your learning experience?

  • What about the course design and materials (lessons, discussions, quizzes, videos, assignments, readings, etc.) could be improved?

  • At this point and time, what is the most important or most valuable thing you have learned in this course so far?


The Instructor

  • What is your instructor doing to lead and facilitate this course that benefits your learning experience?

  • What could your instructor change in their leadership and facilitation to improve your learning experience?

The Student

  • What are you doing to invest in your own learning in this course?

  • What could you do differently to improve your learning experience in this course?


Course Evaluations

During Week 15 of all courses, students are asked to complete a survey to determine the quality of their experience.  The survey is conducted through Populi. Students are asked to rate the following aspects from poor (1) to excellent (5):

  • degree to which the online course materials supported your learning.

  • new learning  acquired

  • quality of online course materials

  • academic challenge of the course

  • timeliness of instructor response

  • quality of instructor feedback on your assignment/submissions

  • interaction with peers

  • course was taught in an effective manner

Students are also asked the following:

  • What is your current student status?

  • What is your degree program?

Students are also welcome to leave comments at the end of survey.

The information from the evaluations will assist leadership in determining how to help instructors be most effective as well as help the instructional designer improve course design.  If you have any questions about these evaluations, please contact the instructional designer, assistant dean, or dean. 

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