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PRESENCESTeaching Presence

Athabasca University is known for its leadership and innovation in distance education. The emergence of MOOCs was of both interest and concern; interest in reference to the opportunities MOOCs could offer as accessible, affordable education and concern at the speed with which MOOCs were being designed and delivered without reference to distance education research/instructional design.

An AU-MOOC Advisory Group was created to consider the opportunity to do just that: evaluate the opportunity to use what is known about successful distance online education in a massive open online course. Learning to Learn Online was the chosen topic for this exploratory MOOC design research. Learning to Learn Online (LTLO) is designed to provide novice online learners with effective skills, practices, and attitudes for online learning.

LTLO is delivered with notions of micro learning communities in mind. Beyond xMOOCs, where traditional transmission models of content delivery is the norm, AU MOOCs are designed to be experiential and collaborative. Beyond cMOOCs, where students are expected to engage in connectivist constructionism and manage their own learning, AU MOOCs are facilitated. The creation of LTLO rested on sound instructional design strategies (Cleveland-Innes, Briton, Gismondi, & Ives, 2015) and the premises found in the online community of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).

This inquiry-based MOOC, or iMOOC, includes three types of Teaching Presence to support learning. The first type is labeled ‘instruction.’ Here there is no opportunity for student response but rather content is delivered in an adjusted lecture format. This instruction is offered in two ways. One is through short videos of someone presenting information supported by a visual of the person and slides/other visuals.  The second way of offering instruction is in text-based presentation of material.

The second type of Teaching Presence is offered in an iMOOC and is labeled ‘inspiration.’ This learning support is offered by a person who plays the role of Inspirer, who, through text-based communication and short-videos, opens and closes each week of the course. This communication provides encouragement, direction, and inspiration at the start of each week and validation and closure at the end of each week.

The third type of Teaching Presence is offered through roving facilitators who provide ‘information’ as needed. A facilitator for every 250 participants is available online to answer questions about technology and learning processes, and encourage students to respond to each other’s questions, comments, and discussion forum posts.

The research about the iMOOC design will be presented at a COHERE conference session in Toronto, October, 2017. We will present findings in an animated, well-illustrated format that illuminates participant responses to this unique instructional design for MOOCs. Discussion will be supported as time allows and direction to further information will be provided, including answers to frequently asked questions.

See for more information.

Cleveland-Innes, M., Briton, D., Gismondi, M., & Ives, C. (June, 2015). MOOC instructional design principles: ensuring quality across scale and diversity. Poster presentation at the International Conference on MOOCs in Scandinavia in Stockholm, Sweden.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87−105.


Martha Cleveland-Innes
Professor, Open, Digital, and Distance Education, Athabasca University
Dr. Martha Cleveland-Innes is Professor of Open, Digital, and Distance Education at Athabasca University. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the bilingual Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology and the author of The Guide to Blended Learning. Martha is instructor, co-designer, and researcher for the open online courses Blended Learning Practice. and Leading Change for Teaching and Learning in a Digital World. The 2nd edition of Introduction to Distance Education: Teaching and Learning in a New Era, which she co-edited, was released by Taylor & Francis in 2021. This same publisher will release The Design of Digital Learning Environments: Online and Blended Applications of the Community of Inquiry, co-edited by Martha, in late 2023. She has held major research grants supporting research on the digital technology-enabled student experience. In 2019 Martha received an Honorary Doctorate from Mid-Sweden University and the Leadership Award from the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education. Her research interest areas include 1) online and blended learning, 2) communities of inquiry, 3) higher education reform and lifelong learning, and 4) leadership in digital education. Martha is currently a member of the Advisory Group for Digital Literacy with the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Visiting Professor of Pedagogy at Mid-Sweden University and former Virtual Educator in Residence, National University of Singapore.

Nathaniel Ostashewski
Athabasca University - Centre for Distance Education
Assistant Professor Ostashewski is a faculty member of Athabasca University's Centre for Distance Education. He has been involved in developing and researching MOOCs in both Canada and Australia. The TELMOOC, or Technology-enabled Learning MOOC, his most recent MOOC project, provides professional learning for educators looking to integrate technology. His other research interests include online and social media that can support online learning, mobile learning implementations, digital storytelling, and the design of online learning in social networking sites. In the past Nathaniel has worked as a K12 teacher, a chief financial officer, an instructional designer, and professional development lecturer.

Dan Wilton
Site Administrator and Developer, Athabasca University
As the administrator and developer for the Community of Inquiry site, I provide technical and general support, including membership and community contributions.If you have any questions, need assistance, or want general guidance on posting a project or a guest editorial, contact me at



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