Some say content is king. Others say context is. But what about contact?
The Flexible Education initiative is not concerned with creating online degrees but instead allowing students - and teaching staff - to move seamlessly between both online and face-to-face teaching.
One key difference between remote and face-to-face teaching is the physical separation of the teacher from learners, and the learners from each other. In other words there is an issue of academic presence.
What is academic presence?
Now is the time to move beyond narrow defintions of what constitutes contact time. It can no longer be defined purely by face-to-face contact and interaction, the sort facilitated by lectures, seminars, office hours and those liminal moments inbetween.
Neither should it be measured solely by synchronous online contact, as this makes assumptions about sustainability, access and bandwidth.
In any case, synchronous online contact alone will not help overcome the common issues associated with poorly designed online learning; isolation, frustration and attrition, and may lead to exhaustion for teachers and students alike.
A measure of presence could be the extent to which a teacher serves as a model for critical discourse, provides constructive critique, and provides timely and formative feedback.
How to promote and sustain academic presence
Physical presence is easily recognisable through observation and perception, but online presence needs to be intentionally created. Opportunites to acheive this arise through the use of a blend of online activities such as live & recorded lectures; structured and scaffolded discussion fora; and short, regularly scheduled MCQ or short-answer tests.
Academic presence does not necessarily mean synchronous. The table below shows that the highest amount of presence and interactivity can arise from asynchronous and relatively low-cost, low-bandwidth activities, such as discussion fora and short feedback videos.
Download a high-resolution PDF of this table