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Strategies for Creating Engaging Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Environments


This page demonstrates how faculty can consider the impact of interaction in their teaching. The following definitions and engagement examples will help to clarify the methods that we can use to engage the students in interaction in face-to-face, hybrid, and online instruction, whether in the traditional formats or in a Remote Instruction context.

Synchronous & Asynchronous Instruction

A key component of instruction in online education is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous instruction. While this is an assumed component of residential face-to-face instruction, it is helpful to intentionally consider it for your hybrid or online instruction. 

Synchronous Instruction and Activities: 

In synchronous instruction or activities, the faculty member and the students interact with one another at the same time, often through audio or video communication tools. 

Asynchronous Instruction and Activities:

Asynchronous instruction and activities, then, is the opposite where there is no requirement for faculty and students to connect with one another at the same time.

Methods of Interaction

Whether faculty engage with students synchronously or asynchronously, there are three primary interaction types that research shows take place within the online classroom (Friesen & Kuskis, 2013). The interactions show a teaching and learning relationship between students and their peers, instructors and their students, and students and the learning content. These interactions can take place through text, audio, video, or images so long as the two parties involved actively engage with each person or media for the cultivation of discourse (Friesen & Kuskis, 2013). It’s helpful to note that the titles themselves (e.g. Student-Student) do not presume a transactional method but a dynamic exchange between both parties. The Teacher-Student interaction type infers that the instructor will impact the student and the student will impact the instructor, not just that the instructor will direct the student.

Three Primary Interaction Types in Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Classes:

Student-Student Interaction:

In this interaction method, students communicate with one another, analyze each other’s work, encourage one another’s thoughts, and actively engage one another. This relationship does not presume one student having authority over another but an equitable platform for all students to share their learning.

Teacher-Student Interaction:

In this interaction method, instructors and students exchange expectations, provide feedback, and respectfully challenge one another. In this way, the instructor does instruct the students through their interactions but the student can also provide insights or changes to the instructor that can improve the learning experience for all participants.

Student-Content Interaction:

In this interaction method, it is expected that the students will actively engage the learning content in all of its media types. However, it also presumes that the content is well prepared and organized for access. This interaction type assumes that students will critically engage the content for both its literal and potentially metaphorical values.

A Student Perspective: Thoughts and observations about virtual learning

It is important to keep in mind that, no matter what strategy you choose, students may have unique home and life situations that make it hard for them to participate to the best of their ability. Under the current situation, many students may be taking online classes when they would otherwise opt for in-person classes. For some students, access to technology may be limited. For others, access to a quiet location without interruption or privacy may be limited. Both of these cases can make active participation in synchronous video classes challenging, if not impossible for some. This is added on top of the anxieties that many people face with phone and video calls, leading to even outgoing students feeling less comfortable with participating.

However, even with those challenges, both synchronous and asynchronous classes can help to give structure and social interaction to students during an uncertain time. No matter what they’re facing, students ultimately do want to learn the material and succeed in the course. With this in mind, flexibility, understanding, and a mix of some asynchronous methods into any style of class may be helpful for all kinds of interaction.

Sarah Kettell '21

Computer Science Major and Sociology Minor, Penn State Harrisburg

Engagement Scenarios

Teacher-Student Interactions & Engagement

Asynchronous Interactions:

Affordances and Limitations for Teacher-Student Interactions in Asynchronous Scenarios


  • Flexibility in Scheduling: Asynchronous interactions for students and instructors offer flexibility in scheduling so that engaging the course can happen during convenient blocks of time for all parties involved.
  • Thoughtful Discussion: There is greater opportunity for instructors and students to reflect on their participation and prepare more thoughtful responses in asynchronous discussion forums.
  • Less Threatening: Asynchronous discussion environments may be less threatening for some students and thus support richer collaborative experiences and co-creation of knowledge (Zhong & Norton, 2018).
  • More Participation Opportunities: Communication can be more widely and evenly distributed in the learning environment with more opportunities for participants to respond to each other.
  • Evidence of Student Progress: Assignment feedback is an essential feature in asynchronous interactions with students and offers both students and instructors evidence of student progress in an asynchronous environment.


  • Slower Feedback Cycle: Feedback lacks immediacy and therefore it takes longer for the feedback cycle to complete: submission > instructor feedback > student review > revision.
  • Risk of Feeling Less Engaged: Students and faculty may feel less engaged without a regular, physical meeting time.
  • Lack of Nonverbal Cues: Written and nonverbal communications lack nonverbal cues and can be misinterpreted.
  • Requires Thoughtful Organization: Information must be organized more thoughtfully so students can access learning materials without direct intervention.
  • Higher Cognitive Load: Discussion boards can be long and difficult to engage specific ideas and students. The amount of text information to process is much higher in an asynchronous environment creating a higher cognitive load for students which takes more time to encode and process.


Instructional Strategies to Create Teacher-Student Engagement

  • Provide a consistent interval to communicate with students so that they can form an expectation of when they will hear from faculty.
    • Have a new announcement at a regular interval for your class. That includes reminders of topics addressed, due dates, etc., as well as what students can expect from faculty (availability, feedback on assessments, etc.).
      Choose a timeframe for when students should expect feedback from assignments and stick to it. Make sure that this feedback is given so students have enough time to incorporate feedback into the next assignment that is due.
    • Offer students a clear expectation for when you will respond to emails – usually within 24 hours is recommended.
    • One student comments: “Couldn’t agree with this more. Also, from my experience I’ve received emails, yet no Canvas notifications and vice versa. So I’d strongly encourage teachers to use both and all means consistently.”
  • Active discussion participation is essential to maintaining visible instructor presence in the class (Garrison & Akyol, 2013).
    • Model the kind of interaction you are expecting of your students.
      • Highlight strengths of discussion posts and spur the discussion with questions to expand participation (Garrison & Akyol, 2013).
        • Create a detailed syllabus and maintain those stated expectations throughout the course: explicitly communicate any changes when they are made.
          • Include in announcements and other communications what students need to expect for a given learning unit and any information to help them navigate the course and find what they need for each assignment.
            • Include any general impressions you might have from an assignment you have just assessed to guide students in their performance to improve as the course progresses. Trends you see in feedback to individual students are often helpful if included in announcements to the entire class.
          • Consider using audio or video feedback for assignments to build more nuanced social presence (Garrison & Akyol, 2013).
            • Offer synchronous office hours, but consider students in different time zones and have various meeting time options. Consider office hours by appointment. Microsoft bookings, Doodle polls, and Canvas schedule tools might help.
              • Consider using video introductions so that students get to know you on a more personal basis.
                • Consider breaking class discussion forums into randomized groups in Canvas. Randomized discussion groups each week ensure all students have an opportunity to interact with each other.


                Synchronous Engagement:

                Affordances and Limitations for Teacher-Student Engagement in Synchronous Scenarios


                • Natural Feeling of Connection: Synchronous class sessions can provide a more natural way to instill a feeling of connection between instructors and students since the instructor and student are engaging in real-time.
                • Easily Transferrable Strategies: Many face-to-face strategies that are used to strengthen the instructor-student relationship can be easily replicated in the synchronous online environment.
                • Real-Time Feedback: Feedback can be immediate as the instructor can inform students in real-time.


                • Technology Access: Some students might not have the necessary technology (like a webcam) or internet connection to engage synchronously.
                • Comfort Level: Some students might not be comfortable with sharing their video feed with the entire class.
                • More Planning: Incorporating a lot of back and forth interaction during a live class session can lead to time-consuming navigational/logistical problems, so prior planning is essential.

                Instructional Strategies to Create Teacher-Student Engagement

                • Encourage students to share their live video: Seeing one another can make the online experience feel more like a face-to-face interaction.
                  • Requiring video is not, however, recommended, as some students may lack the technology to do so.
                • Incorporate icebreaker activities: At the beginning of your class sessions, use icebreakers to build community and increase comfort with communicating in the live online environment.
                • Schedule one-on-one or small group meetings: Between class meetings, smaller group meetings with students can help you to get to know your students better, check on their learning progress, and get a sense of how things are going for them in the online environment.
                  • Incorporate live activities like polls and games: Adding elements like these during your live session can help you gauge whether students are “getting it.”
                  • Use breakout rooms: Breakout rooms in applications like Zoom can give you a way to work with your students during small group activities and group projects.
                    • Make sure you provide them with concrete tasks and deliverables
                    • Ask for report-outs when everyone is back together in the main room to keep them on track!
                    • How to manage breakout rooms in Zoom.
                  • Incorporate multimedia and visuals: Adding visual elements during your live sessions canto increase student engagement with you and your content.
                    • Share popular culture audio or video clips that are related to your content, then engage your class in a discussion of how the clips in, challenges, or illustrates with what you are studying together.
                    • “Dress the part” to draw attention to your topic(s).
                    • Pre-record your usual lecture, then watch it live with your students during your scheduled class time while providing commentary and taking time to answer questions along the way.
                  • Tie your topic into current events: This can help your students make important connections between you, the content, and their daily lives and experiences.
                  • Ask your students for help: By asking them for help with the technology or to lead discussions, monitor chat space, etc., you are letting them know that you are all in this together and that you want them to feel empowered in the online space.
                    • This can take a great deal of pressure off of the students (who might also be struggling in the online environment) and increase attendance and create a willingness to reach out to their instructor and fellow students.
                  • Draw out students who aren’t participating: During live sessions, call on students you haven’t heard from to engage them, just as you would in the face-to-face environment.
                  • Use the chat area and non-verbal feedback tools: To better engage your students, show them how to use the built-in tools in systems like Zoom, ask questions, react, make comments, interject, etc.
                    • Have someone in the class or a TA monitor the chat space and take periodic breaks to address questions or comments that have been posted
                    • Incorporate Packback, a tool approved by Penn State that works like a discussion forum, but students generate and answer each other’s questions and the instructor can go in and make comments. Use it alongside your synchronous class meeting or have them use Packback before your live session to generate questions as a springboard for live conversation.
                  • Consider incorporating a “Class Participation” grade to incentivize meaningful participation.

                  Student-Student Interactions & Engagement

                  Asynchronous Interactions:

                  Affordances and Limitations for Student-Student Interactions in Asynchronous Scenarios


                  • More Participation Opportunities: Asynchronous online discussions bridge the gap of social interaction to construct, apply, and develop knowledge while enabling students to textually communicate, interpret, reflect, and learn with their peers (Tibi, M. H., 2016).
                  • Flexibility in Scheduling: The asynchronous nature enables students to interact across time and location preferences, therefore offering more equitable learning experiences for a diverse student population.
                  • Group Collaboration: Online discussions support collaboration in both small-group and all-class discussions.  Research has shown that group learning helps build active students rather than passive recipients of teaching; it helps distribute cognitive load among group members through the exchange of ideas (Ikpeze, C., 2007).
                  • Thoughtful Discussion: Asynchronous online discussions afford students a more active and reflective learning experience.
                  • Self-Application: Student-Student asynchronous activities encourage student-centered learning, which enables students to be active in their knowledge transformation and to apply their personal experiences, beliefs, values, and practices within their discipline.


                  • Risk of Feeling Isolated: Students often report a sense of isolation in online learning environments.
                  • Interpersonal Contact: Students are challenged to establish interpersonal contact with other students and to form a community of learners through asynchronous means.
                  • Written Communication Skills: Written communication skills are critical for students to articulate their knowledge and their needs (Heiser & Ralston-Berg, 2019).
                  • Navigation Challenges: Canvas all-class discussions and group discussions can be challenging to navigate.
                  • Instructor Moderation: Discussion forums require instructor moderation to ensure students are engaging in constructive collaboration and healthy discourse.

                  Instructional Strategies to Create Student-Student Engagement

                  • Identify your expectations on how students should engage in asynchronous discussion spaces by offering social respect, sharing personal and social information, creating safe and open learning spaces, establishing social identity, and developing authentic intimacy. Community Groundrules is an Open Educational Resource (OER) that can be utilized in your course to articulate your expectations at the start of the semester.
                    • Unlike face-to-face learning environments, effective online learning environments must rely on instant messaging functions like Microsoft Teams, audio and video media technologies like FlipGrid or VoiceThread, email correspondence like Canvas Inbox, and discussion boards like Canvas, Yammer, Packback or Padlet as communication platforms.
                      • Facilitate a learning community: it’s not the instructor’s sole responsibility to carry the discussion; it encourages students to actively and thoughtfully participate to improve the collective knowledge of the class (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 1999).
                        • Discussion forums should be assessed as quality over quantity and can be employed as a course artifact that demonstrates a student’s knowledge transformation to meet course objectives (Heiser & Ralston-Berg, 2019).
                          • Encourage Student-Student interaction through four dialogue strategies that they can employ in their discussion reply posts to promote critical thinking:
                            • conversational (cooperative and seeking mutual understanding);
                            • inquiry (answering a question and coming to a resolution);
                            • debate (critical questions with a need for agreement);
                            • and instruction (utilizing questions and statements to come to resolution) (Burbules, 1993).
                          • In an introductory lesson to your course, create a practice discussion forum for students to introduce themselves to the class and to familiarize themselves with the discussion tool.
                            • In addition to practicing discussion forums in an introductory lesson, develop informal learning spaces like a student lounge or a class cafe to enable students to connect or collectively resolve course-related issues (i.e. sharing a lesson reading that another student wasn’t able to access) (Sacky, Nguyen, & Grabill, 2015).
                              • Develop open-ended, problem-based discussion prompts that challenge students to think deeply about the course content and make meaningful connections (Heiser & Ralston-Berg, 2019).
                                • When creating small groups, try to select group members that are diverse in skills and knowledge and limited in size (3 low, 6 high, and 5 ideal) (Akcaoglu & Lee, 2016).
                                  • Groups need clear goals and should be enabled to have the autonomy to self-regulate and define norms within the framework provided by the instructor.
                                    • Groups can collaborate to develop final projects, case studies, presentations, or papers by utilizing Box, Microsoft Office 365, or GSuite.
                                      • There are many ways to encourage Student-Student interactions in asynchronous learning spaces, including book clubs, debates, and Canvas supported peer-review exercises.
                                        • The efforts happening in a group should not be siloed from the rest of the class, instead tie the group work back to the all-class discussions to present how each group is contributing to the shared body of knowledge.

                                        Synchronous Engagement:

                                        Affordances and Limitations for Student-Student Engagement in Synchronous Scenarios


                                        • Real-time Questions: In a synchronous course, students are able to ask questions in real-time so there is no waiting for a response from the instructor or their peers.
                                        • Stronger Connection: When students are learning together they feel a stronger connection to their peers and a greater sense of community.
                                        • Increased Engagement: Students become more engaged in their learning when they are able to connect synchronously and be actively engaged.
                                        • Collaboration: Students may feel a stronger sense of collaboration when they work together in a synchronous environment.
                                        • Real-time Peer Feedback: Students obtain feedback and suggestions from their peers on their work and their discussions in real-time when they participate in a synchronous class.
                                        • Reduced Feelings of Isolation: Synchronous classes provide students with an opportunity to interact with their peers so that they do not feel so isolated.


                                        • Some students may not feel comfortable engaging with the class using technology.
                                        • More Intimidating: Obtaining or providing real-time peer feedback may feel daunting to students and they may refrain from wanting to participate.
                                        • Less Flexible Scheduling: Some students may not attend classes on a consistent basis and therefore miss out on the peer interaction, engagement, and collaboration activities the instructor is providing.
                                        • Scheduled Interaction: Students are isolated until the next session/next time to interact with the class.
                                        • Technology Access: Due to varying areas of the country and the world, technical difficulties are possible either at the student or instructor level which can prevent students from connecting with each other.
                                        • Potential for Distraction: Students may not have a designated and quiet space to connect to the class.

                                        Instructional Strategies to Create Student-Student Engagement

                                        • Reciprocal Teaching can be done with students teaching a concept instead of the instructor. The “teachers” can focus on summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting through their “lesson” with the class. The “teachers” can use the whiteboard in Zoom or use a PowerPoint slide with its engagement tools/functions.
                                          • Cooperative learning instructional strategies promote the distribution of various levels of knowledge where students collaboratively work together to conduct research, share their results, and perform or produce a final project. The use of cooperative learning strategies creates a collaborative community of learners.
                                              • Cooperative learning instructional strategies promote the distribution of various levels of knowledge where students collaboratively work together to conduct research, share their results, and perform or produce a final project. The use of cooperative learning strategies creates a collaborative community of learners.
                                                • Structured Discussions: Students engaging in different forms of discussions strengthens their listening and speaking skills. Making a class more engaging and challenging through discussions essential to student learning.
                                                  • Socratic Circle/Seminar can be used by providing an open-ended question and having students continue the conversation by providing textual evidence to support their claims.
                                                  • Gallery “walks” can be recreated by assigning students to breakout rooms with a link to a Google Doc where the projects or documents are located. Students can answer the prompt, question, or provide feedback as a group.
                                                  • Structured academic controversies provide students the opportunity to learn about controversial topics which can be discussed from multiple perspectives and then seek consensus
                                                • Think-Pair-Share can be used without much planning and students are able to connect via a breakout room and then regroup with the whole class to share the thoughts from their discussion.
                                                  • One Burning Question from each student can be asked to the whole class or small groups after students have read their text, article, or viewed a video. What did they find they still have a burning question about?
                                                    • Quizzes:
                                                      • Group or partner developed quizzes can be beneficial as they both support the collaborative process. Students can break into groups and come up with a multiple-choice quiz or exam questions.
                                                      • Group quizzes can be given at the beginning of class as a review of content or at the end of class to summarize learning using the breakout rooms in Zoom. The grades can be for low points.
                                                    • Games such as Jeopardy can be used to encourage participation during the reviewing of concepts, practicing for an exam or quiz, or building student vocabulary. Students can work in groups or as partners to compete against others and answer questions.
                                                      • Peer Reviews can be an important part of learning. It enhances students’ critical thinking skills and students are able to benefit from other students (their peers) reviewing their work and providing constructive feedback and suggestions. Instructors can allow student reviews to be anonymous if necessary as students do write better feedback when they are able to write anonymously.

                                                    Student-Content Interactions & Engagement

                                                    Asynchronous Interactions:

                                                    Affordances and Limitations for Student-Content Interactions in Asynchronous Scenarios


                                                    • Flexible Learning and Pace: Students are able to complete their e-learning activities on their own time, at their own pace, from any device, from anywhere in the world.
                                                    • Less Reliance on Location and Time: Well-designed courses can remain interactive regardless of location & time barriers.
                                                    • Increased Learning Time: Asynchronous technologies support learning and allow more time for student reflection, collaboration, and student-to-student interactions (Higley, 2013).
                                                    • More Thoughtful Participation: Asynchronous discussion forums nurture higher-order thinking allowing students more time to reflect on what has been written and do research before responding; hence their written responses are generally considered more thoughtful and are more likely to incorporate different perspectives and complete tasks fully. (Zhong & Norton, 2018). >An asynchronous learning approach can help introverted students eliminate social anxiety, as learning in isolation can make them feel safer and more comfortable.
                                                    • Instructional Value: The value of the content is found both in its instructional purpose and its delivery, that is the learning environment participates in the instruction (Friesen & Kuskis, 2013).


                                                    • Sense of Isolation: Asynchronous content delivery can leave students feeling isolated.
                                                    • Time and Resources: Well-designed and engaging course materials benefit from designer/faculty collaboration; the creation of these materials requires significant time and resources.
                                                    • Cost/Benefit Perception: The perception that asynchronous content delivery isn’t “worth” the tuition spent.
                                                    • Time-Management Skills: Students often lack time-management skills that may result in poor academic performance and even risk of course completion.
                                                    • Accessibility and Copyright Access: Consideration of accessibility and copyright issues are often not adequately addressed.
                                                    • Content Limitations: Several subject areas including Arts, Nursing, Medicine, Sciences (and related labs) cannot provide online content as effectively, while meeting course learning objectives, as they can in a face-to-face educational experience.

                                                    Instructional Strategies to Create Student-Content Engagement

                                                    • Establish Consistent Communication: Instructors should provide communication tools and establish/maintain expectations related to intervals of communication.
                                                      • Send emails/announcements at regular intervals for your class.
                                                      • Offer students a clear expectation for when you will respond to emails – usually within 24 hours is recommended.
                                                      • Inform students of your feedback timeframe. What is your turnaround time for feedback on assignments? Name it and stick to it!
                                                    • Organize Content: Organize content within the learning management system in a way that encourages students to work through sections of content and related assignments in a prescribed timeframe. This can help students effectively manage their time.
                                                      • Use Advanced Organizers: Within the sections of content, faculty can provide advanced organizers for students to utilize note-taking while working through the content.
                                                        • Multi-modal Content Design: Design content that is multimodal audio recordings, videos, audio over graphics, graphics, text, and other third-party hypermedia providers (Friesen & Kuskis, 2013).
                                                            • Include Demonstrations: This is a great way to capture student interest. Record your demonstration as a video clip or develop a document with step-by-step illustrations. Be sure videos are accessible, add transcriptions or closed captioning. By publishing your video to sites such as YouTube, you can upload transcripts or create auto-captioning and edit as necessary (Clinefelter & Aslanian 2016).
                                                              • Create Assignments that require Group Work & Presentations:
                                                                • Provide students with tools for online collaboration, video conferencing tools, and/or a platform for brainstorming ideas.
                                                                • Instructors should include detailed directions and create rubrics for assignments that can help to guide students.
                                                              • Quizzes & Exams:
                                                                • Utilize online testing tools that allow for automated feedback.
                                                                • For higher-order thinking questions, provide an opportunity for students to explain processes, procedures, and concepts in a essay-format
                                                                • Some assessments require handwritten problem-solving. Allow for final answers to be input into an online quiz tool and correlating handwritten work to be scanned and uploaded for further assessment.
                                                              • Encourage Online Collaborations: Build an online presence that encourages collaboration and connection within the asynchronous environment. This can be accomplished through:
                                                                • weekly video reminders & announcements,
                                                                • online office hours,
                                                                • pre-recorded, content-related lectures,
                                                                • personal connection events such as “Theme of the Week” activities.
                                                              • Utilize Asynchronous Discussion Forums: When used effectively, discussion forums provide unique opportunities for students to engage with you, each other, and the content. Alternatives to traditional discussion boards include blogs, journals, portfolios, Wikis, or even social media (Clinefelter & Aslanian 2016).
                                                            • Problem-Based Learning/Case-Based Learning: Encourage students to learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem provided in the course content. Throughout this process, students can work in groups to solve relevant problems.
                                                                • Online Labs: Well-designed labs are not impossible in an asynchronous distance learning environment. If constructed carefully by taking into account the needs and preparation level of students, labs will enrich student learning opportunities and aid in delivering the course learning objectives.
                                                                  • Identify online materials that provide quality lab environments.
                                                                    • Example:
                                                                    • Make short video clips demonstrating techniques.
                                                                    • Incorporate virtual simulations.
                                                                    • Create opportunities for “live” meetings between instructor-student(s) via chat room, Zoom, etc.
                                                                • Consider Student Accommodations: Do a status check – do any students require accommodations? Be prepared and remain flexible. Ask for assistance to be sure course content is accessible to all of your students.

                                                              Synchronous Engagement:

                                                              Affordances and Limitations for Student-Content Engagement in Synchronous Scenarios


                                                              • Real-time Discussions: Students can be engaged in real-time discussions, practices, and opportunities to instruct others around the content.
                                                              • Real-time Answers: Students can seek help and ask questions about the content from instructors and their peers.
                                                              • Group Collaboration: Students can work and learn in groups for particular assignments.
                                                              • Digital Interactivity Tools: Interactivity with content can be facilitated with various digital tools including digital whiteboards, screen sharing, polling systems, or chat spaces.
                                                              • Real-time Feedback: Students who interact with content during live instruction can receive immediate feedback.
                                                              • Familiar: Most similar to the experience of face-to-face instruction.
                                                              • Future Review: Live sessions can be recorded and shared later for students who may have missed class or for students who want to go back and review concepts.


                                                              • Scheduling Conflicts: Not all students may be available at the same time to interact with the content.
                                                              • Limited Time: There may not be enough time to accomplish complex activities.
                                                              • New Technology to Learn: Instructors may need to learn how to use certain tools to facilitate student-content interactions.
                                                              • Instructor Comfort Levels: Instructors may not be comfortable facilitating active learning sessions.
                                                              • Less Flexibility: Learners may not have much control over or flexibility with content that is delivered in a synchronous setting.
                                                              • Time Commitment: Students and instructors may not have the time or motivation to learn tools used to deliver course content.
                                                              • Student Willingness: Students may choose not to engage with content.

                                                              Instructional Strategies to Create Student-Content Engagement

                                                              • In-class discussions: Set up specific times for students to have a discussion with other students around a topic of the day. Discussions will allow students to converse with each other over the topic. If one doesn’t know the content well, the other student could end up teaching or they could end up co-creating new knowledge. Teaching others is one of the best ways to reinforce learning.
                                                                  • Ideas for in-class discussions (Angelo & Cross, 1993):
                                                                    • Muddiest point: What was the most unclear or confusing point in the lecture or the reading?
                                                                    • Minute conversation: What was the most important thing you learned during this class? What important question remains unanswered?
                                                                    • Punctuated Lecture: Students briefly reflect then restate the most important elements of the lecture.
                                                                    • Relevant topic discussions: Record a short video lecture in advance and ask students to come to class prepared to ask questions or discuss the recording. Sticking to “stable” topics will allow you to reuse videos for future courses.
                                                                    • If you are using Zoom, you could create breakout rooms for students to “step outside the class space” to have a conversation.
                                                                  • Encourage students to schedule phone calls, chat sessions, or web meetings during the allotted class time.
                                                                    • Other online discussion tools include:
                                                                      • Discord: Free voice and text chat mostly used by gamers.
                                                                      • Reddit: A discussion forum popular for AMAs.
                                                                      • Slack: An instant-messaging platform good for organizing chats.
                                                                      • GroupMe: Brings group text messaging to every phone.
                                                                  • Online debates: Debates stimulate critical thinking and can be a highly effective way to actively engage students in research in the online classroom (Shaw, 2012).
                                                                    • Examples of online debates.
                                                                    • Any web meeting tool could be used to stage an online debate.
                                                                  • Quizzes/live-polling: Zoom polls or other quizzing tools can be used to engage students and assess their knowledge on the topic of the day’s lesson.
                                                                    • Create an icebreaker to encourage conversation or engagement for your daily topic.
                                                                    • Let your students pick what you are going to discuss.
                                                                    • Get input on the topic. Create a scale question that lets students rate their level of understanding on the topic for the day.
                                                                    • How to create Polling in Meetings.
                                                                  • Social Media: Encourage students to live-tweet a class lecture.
                                                                  • Experts in the class: Bring in experts for live question-and-answer sessions around a particular topic. If you have a colleague who is an expert on a topic that you are covering in class, ask them to join you during class so students can hear what he or she has to say and ask them questions.
                                                                  • Worked problems: Provide students worksheets with problems. Students could do work in advance and then review their answers during class time with the class or small groups or they could work in tandem with you as you discuss solutions. Students could share their screens to show their process for solving problems.
                                                                  • Content creation: Allow students time in class to create content. When students build their own content, creations, and meaning, learning becomes more meaningful.
                                                                    • Wikis: A wiki is a knowledge base website on which users collaboratively modify and structure content directly from a web browser.
                                                                    • Concept maps: Students work collaboratively to map content for a particular lesson or chapter to create a new knowledge structure.
                                                                    • Student panelists: Select a few students to present their thoughts or ideas on a particular topic. Students in the audience ask questions. Resources for an online fishbowl activity.
                                                                  • Scavenger hunts: Break students into teams and give them an allotted amount of time to go find information or resources that are relevant to the course topic.
                                                                    • Have students come back and share their findings and why it is important. If you have a large class, break students into groups.
                                                                  • Problem-based learning: Encourage students to learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem provided in the course content
                                                                  • Online labs: Explore laboratory experiences outside of the lab but in the class.
                                                                    • Find a video of a lab procedure and present it during the lecture.
                                                                    • Walk students through important techniques or provide opportunities for students to comment on the procedures.
                                                                  • Virtual reality: Find a virtual reality (VR) experience to share.
                                                                  • Ideation: Give students the opportunity to participate in a brainstorming/problem-solving session around a particular topic.


                                                                  Akcaoglu, M., & Lee, E. (2016). Increasing social presence in online learning through small group discussions. The international review of research in open and distributed learning, 17(3).

                                                                  Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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