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This is probably the one mantra I’ve repeated the most since my first day of being an instructional designer: Show your face👽👻 to your online students!
Technically, there is nothing complicated at all: Just snap a selfie or a quick video on a smartphone and upload it to the learning management system as an announcement or message. And voila, you just accomplished the goal of increasing instructor presence in an online learning environment.
This is probably the most efficient way to address the instructor presence issue. However, not many instructors feel comfortable with it, and the reason is two words: Camera shyness.
Don’t we all look awful in photos? 🙄 I know I do. The person I see in the mirror looks so much better than the one in any of my photos. But I also know that I am not alone. Most people, like me, look stiff, unnatural, horrified, deer-in-the-headlights… all and all, terrible, in front of a camera. This is one reason why modeling is a profession, and we are not professionally trained models. Many of us thus choose to hide behind the computer screen.
I’ve seen so many instructors only willing to show their professionally taken head shots with the formal attire, perfectly coached expression, hair light, and blurred background. Some are not even comfortable with a professional shot but instead, use a photo of their pet or a random flower as their avatar. However, this is a deeply problematic practice. Let’s think from the learners’ perspective. If you were a student, would you like to be taught by a cat or a camellia? Probably not. Learners want, and need, to know that they are actually taught by a real human being. This also means just one professional head shot is far from sufficient. In most of current online learning environments, there are limited opportunities to “see” the instructor, which causes a weakened sense of instructor presence. One of the biggest unsatisfactory factor of online learning is the sense of isolation. Online learners often feel that they are alone, teaching themselves in front of a computer. As an instructor, the easiest way to remedy this situation is to show your face!
Then how exactly can I overcome the camera shyness? Here is ONE simple tip: You don’t have to look good!
Remember, we are taking photos and recording videos for the purpose of teaching, not for a fashion contest. We didn’t have bokeh backgrounds or hair light in our classroom teaching and students still loved us. Why need them now? What learners really appreciate is the message and care their instructor delivers through the photo or video, not that the instructor’s skin looks spotless. I would even recommend to purposefully take some failed selfies and show a little bit goofiness sometimes. It says that we are real human; and real human fails. Just a simple technique, but it may help reduce student stress and make us instructors more approachable.
All and all, you are the absolute super star of your course and your students admire you, even if all of your photos were out of focus and showing your double chin… Now, go get in front of that camera!