Instructor background information & photo

My Story


Telling your story as an online instructor helps your students get to know and trust you. Sharing your background information and a profile photo are effective ways to establish your social presence in online courses. Multimedia tools provide a range of ways for you to authentically present yourself to and connect with students. 


Missouri Online recommends that online courses include faculty background information and a faculty photo to support interaction and engagement (#20 in the 5 Pillars Review form).

Theoretical foundation 

Establishing your social presence in online learning environments can be difficult due to communication limitations and transactional distance. The Theory of Transactional Distance examines the interplay of teacher and student in a learning environment when spatial separation exists between two parties (Delaney & Betts, 2021). 

Over the last two decades, the Community of Inquiry (COI) model has helped educators decrease transactional distance and increase student engagement (Garrison 2009). To communicate your identity in an online course is to have "social presence,” which is defined in the COI model as the ability of participants to:

  • identify with the learning community, 
  • communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and 
  • develop interpersonal relationships. 

To create a climate of open communication, initial course activities should provide opportunities for instructors and students to project their individual personalities (Garrison 2009). When an instructor shares their background information in a purposeful way, it can help kickstart a successful online learning community.

Why tell my story?

Students want to be assured that their instructors are competent as subject matter experts, passionate about what they are teaching, and approachable and trustworthy as partners in their learning. Conveying this to students reduces the transactional distance and impersonal experiences associated with online learning. It also provides motivation for underrepresented populations who see their own identity reflected in an instructor (Dennen, 2022). 

In his Missouri Online blog, Instructional Designer and Instructor Elmer Ragus discusses his approach to telling his story through building teacher credibility. He has found that by cultivating trust and respect, he can be a partner in empowering students to thrive academically and personally in an online learning environment.

Why use multimedia? What tools should I use?

Sharing a photo of yourself and using audio or video to tell your story foster a stronger social presence than text-based communication alone–and provide ways for you to convey your excitement for your subject area, which can be contagious! Multimedia also gives you a means to model professional behaviors for students who are developing their identities as professionals in your field (Lowenthal, 2017).

Missouri Online supports tools for recording videos and sharing photos. Instructors have access to PanoptoVoiceThread, and One Button Studio to record videos and Canvas account features to share profile pictures. The latter are displayed wherever there is communication in Canvas, such as discussion forums. This allows students to see the instructor’s and other students’ faces when reading and replying to posts, helping to narrow transactional distance.

Example photos & videos

Explore these examples created by UM System instructors for inspiration for crafting your own story. The videos are hosted in Panopto, which automatically generates captions that can be easily fixed for accessibility – a requirement for online courses and just good design.

Example 1: This example photo and background information was provided by Dr. Kihyung Kim, an assistant teaching professor in the Trulaske College Of Business at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He also presented a webinar with Missouri Online, Elevating Learning: Effective Video Strategies for Online Courses with Faculty Kihyung Kim (recording), where he demonstrates how he creates videos for online courses to better support and connect with students.

A cropped image from a profile story of Dr. Kihyung Kim

Profile text:

Dr. Kihyung Kim deciphers what mathematics can tell us about complex decision-making. Kim, an assistant teaching professor in the management department, uses his interdisciplinary knowledge to extract core issues from complicated business decisions. Rooted in the intersection of business and engineering, Kim researches supply chain management where companies both collaborate and compete for market share. By modeling supply chains using game theory, he helps businesses gain insight. He also researches corporate social responsibility, joint production, and strategic decision-making in rapidly changing environments.

Kim teaches various quantitative classes such as operations management, supply chain engineering and data analytics A dedicated teacher, he fosters in his students a systematic and scientific method of thinking. Before coming to MU, Kim conducted research for General Electric Aviation and General Electric Global Research. He is a member of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences and contributes reviews for many peer-reviewed journals.

Example 2: In this video, Amy Belfi, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Science at Missouri S&T, shares how she came to study music and the brain working with people with neurological damage.


Example 3: Manon Allard, Adjunct Instructor of Modern Languages at UMSL and an Instructional Designer for Missouri Online, recorded this introductory video in the One Button Studio that is available for your use. 

Text and photography

Video isn’t the only way to share your story. Take a look at this About page created by educator Michelle Pacansky-Brock with her “backstory” featuring an old family photograph.

Making the most of multimedia

Relying on text-based communication alone leaves participants in online learning communities to establish social presence and identity in the absence of social cues. Photos and videos provide social cues through eye contact, facial and bodily expressions, background, and clothing; professional dress in photos has been positively associated with student perceptions of instructor credibility (Dennen, 2022). Well-crafted video can foster both instructor credibility and immediacy, adding “a personal touch to what could otherwise be a very impersonal environment” (Ramlatchan, 2022, p 525).

A visual presence may make some instructors more vulnerable to student critique. Studies have shown that students are more critical of female instructors than of male instructors. In teaching evaluations, students tend to comment on a female instructor's appearance and personality far more often than a male instructor's (Mitchell, 2018). However, not being able to see instructors in online environments decreases students’ sense of immediacy with instructors (Dennen, 2022).


Social presence is essential for fostering transformative online learning experiences. Telling your story by sharing your background information and your photo can enhance your credibility and your relationship with students by demonstrating competence, showing your passion, and awakening your students' learning. By cultivating trusting and respectful relationships with students, instructors enable students to thrive academically and personally. Let's cultivate online environments where trust and respect empower students.

Related Missouri Online Resources

Ragus, Elmer (2023). Building teacher credibility | Missouri Online



Dennen, V. P., & Arslan, Ö. (2022). The visual performance of online identity: Instructor presence and persona across tools and settings. Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning, 2(1).

Lowenthal, Patrick R., and Vanessa P. Dennen (2017). Social Presence, Identity, and Online Learning: Research Development and Needs. Distance Education, vol. 38, no. 2, Aug. 2017, pp. 137–40.

Mitchell, K., & Martin, J. (2018). Gender Bias in Student Evaluations. PS: Political Science & Politics, 51(3), 648-652. https://doi:10.1017/S104909651800001X


Ramlatchan, M., & Watson, G. S. (2020). Enhancing instructor credibility and immediacy in online multimedia designs. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(1), 511-528–528.

Created on February 26, 2024.