10 Strategies for Engaging Learners with TelePresence


This document outlines 10 strategies for engaging learners with TelePresence. This is not a how-to document; we simply describe some of the types of activities and strategies that may be useful in your course.

What is Telepresence?

Russell (2009) defines TelePresence as “...the sense that a person using certain technologies has that he or she is present in a location other than their real world location.” Functionally, this means you use video technology tools to project a life size version of yourself remotely.

10 Strategies for Engaging Learners with Telepresence

Strategy #1: Engage Learners through Dialogic Instruction

The basics: TelePresence is designed to encourage dialogic instruction. Rather than facing forward toward the instructor, students in the two rooms face one another. Consider putting yourself in the mix with your learners, dialoguing about the content of the course, asking questions, and engaging one another.

Variations on the approach: Employ a Student Response System to gauge learners’ understanding of an important concept, or ask for opinions on a controversial issue, or to provide a back channel for discussion.

Student Response System Tools to use to employ this strategy:

Strategy #2: Encourage Engagement and Interaction by Applying Ice-Breakers

The basics: California State University, Monterey Bay documentation on TelePresence in Education (see ‘On the Web’) suggests “to begin the class with some sort of activity or exercise that demonstrates the interactive nature of the technology. Students must learn as soon as possible that they are not watching television – they are engaged in a live interactive experience.”  Prepare an introductory ice-breaker that will help learners get to know each other and feel comfortable in the ‘digital face-to-face’ environment.

Variations on the approach: Details on varying this approach can be found in the following documentation: Introductory Ice-Breakers (Fay, Garrod, & Carletta, 2000)

Tools to power this strategy:

Strategy #3: Use Tablets and Cloud-based Whiteboarding to Brainstorm Together

TelePresence allows groups of people to co-create solutions to problems through brainstorming activities.  You can integrate smart phones, tablet computers and cloud-based whiteboarding tools into the process to facilitate sharing ideas synchronously. One of the advantages of using the cloud based whiteboarding is that completed brainstorming documents will be available after class time.

Tools to power this strategy:

Strategy #4: Create a Hybrid Model Course

The basics: TelePresence offers a sense of being together with your students. It is designed to create experiences of being fully present in the same location even though participants are geographically separated. TelePresence enables eye to eye contact, allowing participants to see facial expressions via high quality video and audio. You may blend your online course with TelePresence-enabled face-to-face interactions between you and your students thus you can maximize student engagement by employing strengths of both online learning and face-to-face learning.

Variations on the approach: Meet with your students in a TelePresence room. If all learners cannot meet in a TelePresence room, you may want to consider Jabber video to bring people together.


Strategy #5: Transform Large Group Discussion into Smaller Breakout Discussions

The basics:  Our TelePresence classrooms are designed in such a way that easily facilitates large group discussion amongst learners, but that isn’t to suggest that smaller groups shouldn’t be employed when appropriate. To offer guidance on this determination, consider that small group discussion is viewed as a bilateral process of establishing consensus among pairs of communicators, while large group discussion is viewed as a unilateral process of broadcasting information to the group at large (Fay, Garrod, & Carletta, 2000).

Let everyone learn from each others’ views and experiences . One of the ways to get students to interact meaningfully is creating breakout sessions where smaller group of students discuss specific aspects of the main meeting.  

Tools to power this strategy:

Variations on the approach: Instructors can create a discussion session in the TelePresence rooms, then students break into smaller groups. This will allow for more individual discussion and sharing, as well as provide an opportunity for students to work with different students than they usually do. These smaller groups can communicate via Skype, Phone, in person, or chat. Then come back and continue the discussion as a whole group in the TelePresence rooms.

Strategy #6: Participate in Collaborative Virtual Meetings from Multiple Locations

The basics: Professional development and training opportunities are increasingly being offered via “webinar” or other models. By registering once and then connecting the webinar via TelePresence to multiple sites, you can not only connect the campus community to quality online training, but you can also create a discussion environment among your colleagues or students.

Variations on the approach: Instructors and students can join a webinar in multiple TelePresence rooms (e.g. one in Mankato and one Edina). Students in both locations can watch the webinar and after the webinar students can discuss important issues that were mentioned during the webinar.

Strategy #7: Bring in Experts and Guest Speakers Who Can’t Travel to Mankato

The basics: Bringing experts and guest speakers into the classroom can be costly, time consuming and sometimes not even possible. Introduce your students to different views and ideas by bringing the best speakers into your class.

Variations on the approach: Invite speakers for guest lectures, presentations, discussions or any other academic pursuits. Even if the speakers cannot make it to a TelePresence Location, they can connect in remotely.

Strategy #8: Bring Together Service Learning and Internship Students Working in the Twin Cities

The basics: Establish social contexts and effective connections between service learning and internship students by using the TelePresence system so that you can combine formal education with real world experiences to enhance learning. Students can discuss and convey their experiences. This can also provide meaningful opportunities for students to reflect on their service or internship experiences.

Variations on the approach: Set monthly meetings between your students in Mankato and internship students via TelePresence. Let them discuss their learning experience during this in-class discussions. These meetings can also create opportunities for reflection and partnership among students.  

Strategy #9: Engage Students by Employing a Socratic/Seminar Approach

The basics: The National Paideia Center (see, ‘On the Web’) defines Socratic Seminar as a ‘Collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text (or, media, video, ect). The purpose of this type of approach is to achieve a deeper understanding about ideas and values in a text.  Based on student handouts containing open ended questions, learners systematically question and examine issues and principles related to the particular pre-assigned content, and articulate any differing viewpoints.  Through analysis, interpretation, participation and listening, learns begin to construct meaning around the text.

Variations on the approach: For more a more detailed description of Socratic Seminar, including sample questions, assessment, and variations on the approach, please view this document provided by the National Paideia Center: Socratic Seminar

Strategy  #10: Situated learning and coaching within a virtual classroom environment

The basics: TelePresence systems consist of sophisticated technologies to transmit high fidelity video and sound. In fact, one of the basic distinctions of TelePresence from video conference systems is that TelePresence offers high quality video and audio systems that simulate the effect of participants sitting in the same room. This feature offers much greater fidelity of vision and sound than traditional video conferencing systems. This feature also provides opportunities for offering authentic contexts and activities remotely. TelePresence rooms can be used to create authentic learning environments allowing instructors and students to visualize, to model, to reflect and to coach.

Variations on the approach: You or an expert show and explain a topic, let students watch, observe, and reflect on how to apply what they just observed and provide authentic feedback remotely using TelePresence. For instance, assume you are teaching a music class and want to teach how to play violin. You may have trouble finding a master musician to play a violin in Mankato. However you may be able to connect your students in Mankato with a violin master in Minneapolis via TelePresence. The Master can not only provide advice and feedback on how to play but also coach your students remotely to play themselves.

Making It Happen

If you’re interested in employing one of these strategies but aren’t quite sure how to get started or need some assistance, please contact Michael Manderfeld, michael.manderfeld@mnsu.edu or Marni Dunning, marni.dunning@mnsu.edu to arrange for a consultation.

Contribute Your Own Strategies

Do you have your own effective strategy for engaging learners that isn’t represented here? Let us know about it! Email your ideas to Michael Manderfeld, michael.manderfeld@mnsu.edu.


Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner:Activities and resources for creative instruction. (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fay, N., Garrod, S., & Carletta, J. (2000). Group Discussion as Interactive Dialogue or as Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 11(6),

Russell, D. (2009). Cases on Collaboration in Virtual Learning Environments. IGI Global Publishing, Hershey, PA.

On The Web

California State University - Monterey Bay:

National Paideia Center:

Group Discussion as Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue:



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