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What Does Your Online Image Say About You?

photoBy Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

As an online instructor do you consider the virtual or perceptual image you have established with your students? Do you consider the image you portray and how this image is developed throughout the course? If so, how do you manage your image? An online instructor is represented with every classroom posting and every message sent to the students. A virtual image is developed through students’ perceptual processing and is influenced by the perceived tone of the instructor’s messages, the word choice utilized, and mechanics of everything that has been written. Development of a positive online instructional image is necessary as it has a direct influence on working relationships and how receptive students are to their instructor’s guidance, feedback, and support.

Within an online classroom students typically become acquainted with their instructor when they read the introduction or biography posted. This presents an opportunity for the instructor to share highlights of their background, which includes their experience and education, as a means of creating an image of being knowledgeable, personable, and a “real” person to the students. The importance of the classroom introduction should not be overlooked as a brief response may be perceived as a lack of caring when it needs to promote a sense of community. This introduction can be enhanced by inviting students to professional social networking platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn. Instructors should be cautious about utilizing Facebook, if their profile reveals personal information that would have a negative impact on their virtual instructional presence.

Instructors have another opportunity to enhance their virtual image through messages posted in the classroom. For online lectures and instructional participation postings instructors can demonstrate their subject matter expertise, which has a direct impact on their credibility. Students also develop a sense of who their instructor is when they review the feedback provided. Your image as an instructor may be that of someone who truly cares about their students’ development or someone who demands compliance to their expectations. The challenge when creating these messages is to utilize wording that is professional but does not talk up to or down to students. In addition, the wording should be engaging and utilized as a means of encouraging productive communication, if the goal is to create a responsive presence. Some instructors prefer a direct approach to classroom facilitation and choose to establish an authoritative presence.

The online classroom environment requires an instructional approach that bridges the gap between technology and students. Students’ engagement in the class is often influenced by their perception of the classroom environment, which is directly affected by the instructor’s virtual presence. Should an instructor care about their image? The answer is yes, if the instructor wants to develop meaningful interactions and effective communication. A positive online instructional image helps to build a sense of working together and can increase students’ acceptance of feedback, coaching, and guidance provided. Instructors can develop a strong image by paying attention to their communication, their postings, and their interactions. It can be further enhanced through the use of professional social networking. Instructors develop facilitation techniques and practices that are designed to influence the process of learning and students will respond favorably if they have a positive overall perception of their instructor and the instructor’s abilities.

By Bruce A. Johnson, PhD, MBA

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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