Texas Tech University

For Faculty

Creating a Welcoming and Engaging Learning Environment

by Brian Ditmer, Instructional Designer

Your personality as it is revealed through your teaching style is even more essential online as it is in the classroom. Instructor immediacy involves communication behaviors that reduce "social and psychological distance between people" (Arbaugh, 2001) and that is key to communicating: in other words, learning. So how is this important element presented online?

Students desire the instructor's presence. Introducing yourself with a good bio has a big effect on engagement. Knowing that there is someone there with them instills confidence and strengthens the desire to succeed. Presence is the most important best practice for an online course (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010.) Be sure to relate your bio to the course topic as much as possible, include your credentials and keep it as short and concise as possible. A good photograph of yourself, or even a very short video increases the effectiveness of an introduction. (support.udemy.com).

On the opening page of your course, toggle that student view icon. Close your eyes and try to put yourself into a student's perspective. Now open your eyes and look that page. Can you see how to begin? Keep in mind that the student has never seen this course before and may have seen online courses that navigate quite differently. If it isn't immediately evident what to do then some changes need to be made. Navigation is a critical element of an engaging course. Good course design provides consistency and clarity in the way a course operates. An exemplary practice is to include a very detailed navigation explanation somewhere in the opening page.

You've probably seen it in the classroom many times: students often have many questions beyond the learning topic. How do I cite? How can an assignment be submitted? What happens if I'm a day late? Online, the questions can triple since now we are adding technology. Providing links for technical support, tutoring-type support, and a way that students can ask one another about things will go a long way in making that student feel comfortable and more able to focus on the learning.

Your availability to the students is also important. Include a brief statement in the syllabus or opening page of the course that will provide guidance on how soon a student can expect a reply from you. Hopefully you are logging into your course daily. But be careful about promising 24-hour turnarounds. Things do come up. A good timeframe might be 48 hours, which feels like a bonus to the student when it does come back sooner. It is also good have a course questions discussion forum and to remind the students that they can post their questions there. They might even get their question answered by another student, or will help other students who have that same question.

Student introductions are a great way for students to make some early contact with their classmates. Your participation here provides a powerful engagement effect when students are getting to know you on a more personal level right as they engage with the other students.


  • Arbaugh, J. B. (2001). How instructor immediacy behaviors affect student satisfaction and learning in web courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4), 42-54.
  • Boettcher, J.V., & Conrad, R. (2010).The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
  • support.udemy.com. Instructor Bio: Quality Standards. Accessed 12 Aug 2016.


The Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design (ID) Team consults in collaboration with faculty and course developers to create quality online courses. The ID Team is well-versed in the best practices of instructional design, universal design for learning, educational technology, and issues such as compliance with the American Disability Act and copyright regulations. ID Team members are available for consultation by appointment: contact us via email or phone, (806) 742-7277, if you need further assistance.