Instructor presence with Instant Messaging

Reflecting on my experience as a f2f instructor, I remember spending many afternoons in my department office accomplishing very little of the required “paperwork” because there were frequent knocks on my door. Students with questions or students wanting to share information. Our department received high recommendations from students, primarily because we were all dedicated “available” instructors. Students remind me a lot of children, and I say this in a positive tone because as an Early Childhood Educator I love and appreciate childlike characteristics. One of these characteristics evident in many students is immediate gratification, meaning if they are excited and want to show something….they want to show it now and not in a weeks time; if they have a question….they would like to ask it now and not in three days.

Looking forward to my future as an online instructor I still cherish the idea of hearing a knock on my door but since that is not really possible I thought it could just be transformed to a “knock” on my computer in the form of an instant message (IM) pop up. This does not mean that I intend to work 24/7 (although my f2f experience almost felt like that), instead it means that when I am in my office working I can still have the same open door policy that I have always enjoyed. If I do not wish to make myself available I can always turn my instant messaging to offline/unavailable or even invisible.

I see IM as a useful tool to create a strong community in an online environment. Sending a quick IM web link, or a quick reminder for an assignment, or a “Happy Holiday” all serve as a personal yet professional link to the community of the course. Students can send a question to the group and anyone can IM back. It’s quick, accessible, community oriented, establishes strong links and creates cohesiveness among the members. IM allows students the security that the instructor is just a click away. It might also be encouraging when students are working on the course on a Saturday afternoon and they see others are online too and can send quick messages to encourage each other.

The link below offers an abstract on a study conducted on students using IM in undergraduate and graduate courses both on-site and online. Although there were some obstacles such as privacy concerns there were many advantages especially with regards to community.

The next link questions the effect of IM on the correct use of grammar, spelling and punctuation, or as quoted “bastardization” of language. My view is that students should be mature enough to understand that the use of language needs to be appropriate for the context or audience, regardless of the tool used.

There are several different options for IM like MSN, Yahoo, Google etc as well as sites that support different networks such as Trillian. After reviewing several options and reflecting back on the profiles of students in the previous course of EDUC 4150 I noticed that most students have Skype accounts (probably all students do because they usually have a Skype meeting with Joanne Reid the instructor). My thoughts are to just use the Skype account for IM as well, because this would prevent privacy concerns of students already using IM on a personal level with their friends. It would also negate the need to add yet another tool.  I might consider Trillian as another option, provided students are willing to download the application, but I would first need to explore it more fully. Lync is another option worth exploring.


Rob Kelly posted “Nine Strategies for using IM in your online course” in Faculty Focus. This link is also available in the resource section.

Instructor presence is directly linked to student success in a course.


About Karin Potgieter

Originally from South Africa, I have been privileged to enjoy the beautiful lifestyle of Canada. My career in Early Childhood Education has been motivating, ranging from the endearing relationships with the children and families of the Preschool that I owned to the inspirational interactions with my students as instructor of the Early Childhood Education Certificate Program. My qualifications include a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, Early Childhood Education Certificate, Provincial Instructors Diploma and en route to completing the Certificate in Online/eLearning Instruction.
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