In this section we will provide some ideas and important considerations to make when planning to all or parts of your teaching online.


Considerations when building online activities

Some considerations to think about…

  • don’t try to replicate face-to-face teaching: asynchronous vs synchronous, you may have to replace or scrap activities or content
  • keep things flexible: Students won’t always be available at a set time for live events or activities. If asynchronous activities (for example forums or quizzes) and resources are all available in moodle with clear instructions and signposting, then students can access and engage with them at a time that works for them and can also refer to them later for revision and assessment purposes.
  • breaking up your lecture into smaller chunks; present content in chunks lasting no longer than 15-20 minutes such as a few short screencasts on key concepts
  • consider short, engaging activities that are student-led rather than delivering a full-blown lecture online
  • design effective online activities and mix things up: ask students to share resources and ideas via a forum, webinar or collaborative document – you may want to come back to it regularly as part of your webinars to keep students on track. Use structured questions related to the module assessment to promote engagement.
  • thoughts on engaging learners online: online engagement framework
  • think about how to track student engagement online for asynchronous activities: discussion forum posts, reflective blog posts, learning journals, self-marked quizzes etc.
  • We recommend looking though this fantastic resource on Moving your face to face course to online quickly from MacEwan University.

Synchronous or asynchronous?

Think carefully about which synchronous and asynchronous activities you would like to include in your online module. You may need to replace several activities or scrap them altogether.

  • examples of synchronous activities: anything involving student collaboration such as part of a virtual seminar eg, flipped classroom model, show & tell, assignment prep, group discussion, Q&A, virtual office hours etc
  • online lectures: use screencast/narrated presentation as part of flipped classroom instead
  • sophisticated collaboration & annotation using webinar tools such as the whiteboard, screen share etc: the tools in Blackboard Collaborate for instance are for basic annotation and highlighting shared content. If sophisticated annotation and student collaboration is at the heart of your session, use the breakout rooms and have learners work on collaboration tools outside of your live sessions using MS O365 for collaborative documents, other apps such as class blogs, digital walls, mindmaps etc. This can also be done asynchronously while the results are discussed and presented as part of a live webinar.
  • flipped classroom for lecture content: record a screencast or a PowerPoint with voice over instead of delivering an online lecture, add links to clips and other resources to moodle

Student Collaboration - Creating a sense of Community

Create a safe space in the module to build up students confidence and to open up an online social presence. Make use of icebreaker activities, see them as the initial small steps for students getting used to their online learning space. Some of the following icebreaker suggestions could apply to both asynchronous or synchronous settings:

Getting to Know You: Ask the students to post a message to the Getting to Know You Forum that includes the following information: 1. Your name (i.e. the name you like people to use) 2. What you hope to get out of the course 3.Your interests.  4. name one unusual or interesting about you 5. What you hope to be doing in five years. Ask the group members to reply to three of the participants to find out more about a hobby or interest or to discuss a shared interest. The teacher should post a message giving information about themselves and also reply to student postings.

Two Lies and a Truth: Ask the group members to send a message to the forum listing three interesting things about themselves. For example: I own a pet pythonI like to climb mountains and I have met the Queen of Denmark. Two of these statements must be lies and one must be true. Students must vote to determine which interesting thing is the truth. The participant with the most incorrect votes (i.e., whose lie was the most convincing) wins.

Interviewing – Divide your group into pairs and ask them to interview each other. They can do this via a group forum. Then ask them to post a summary of their findings about each other to the a module forum.

Open ended questions – Set up questions with no right answer to facilitate an easy discussion e.g. best type of holiday – city or beach, cats or dogs or a module related topic

This blog post from UCL on Teaching and learning with discussion forums provides some other excellent suggestions for initial welcome forum topics.

We would also recommend this resource from OneHE on ideas for community building activities.

The Hyper Island toolbox is another great resource for creative collaboration.

Activities for encouraging student engagement with Moodle Forums

Designing a forum activity

Well structured discussions can help promote student engagement in the activity. Putchinski cited in Thompson et al. (2014) provides rules to structure effective discussion forums.

  1.  Give a prompt relevant to your course content.
  2.  Make the prompt current, such as something recently in the news.
  3.  Add a twist like an ethical dilemma.
  4. Optional extra – Add in learner choice by giving students the option of two alternative topics

When planning your activity you may like to try following the 5 Questions Framework designed by academics at the University of York to aid in creating a clear and effective activity. For more information on this approach visit the Advance HE pages.

Take a look at our forums guidance for help with effectively facilitating forum discussion to ensure student engagement

Ideas for discussion activities

FAQ – Set up a Forum entitled FAQ or Ask a module question here to enable students to ask questions about the module. They will also have the opportunity to explore previously asked questions and the answers that have been provided. An FAQ discussion forum can have the benefit of reducing the time the lecturer needs to spend on answering common queries, and it can also encourage peer support. This activity works best with an asynchronous communication tool such as the Moodle Discussion Forum.

Role Plays – With this technique the teacher invites students to take on different roles to explore the consequences of different kinds of action. This enables the students to engage emotionally as well as cognitively with different roles. You can use this activity with both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools so Discussion Forums, Chat or Adobe Connect.

Debates – structure discussions like debates to encourage higher order cognitive thinking. Put students into debate groups and give them a debate structure and timetable for posting their arguments

Role Play – students speak from the point of view of a fictional or non- fictional person

KnowWantLearned (KWL) – the “What do you know? What do you want to know? What have you learned?” structure. Use to encourage students to bring in prior knowledge and help guide the course of the discussion.

Scenario –  Create a ‘real-life’ scenario for students to address. Perhaps base it around current event and provide a supporting news story

Review – students share their projects/papers and request peer feedback.

Activities for encouraging student engagement with Bbc Webinars

Blackboard Collaborate has written guidance in relation to planning your webinar and it’s tools but there are elements here that will also apply to other synchronous activities using other technologies such as the Moodle Chat tool.

Applying Groups and Groupings to your activities and resources

You can use groups and groupings for all Moodle activities and resources in order to dictate how the content behaves, how a student can access or interact with that content. The guide below will explain why you might use groups and groupings for some resources and activities on your module.  It is important to be aware of the difference between user groups and using groupings as using them incorrectly can mean that students end up in multiple groups for an activity causing confusion and affecting the success of the activity, so please read on.

Small Group Activities

This blog resource from City University London is a fantastic tool for finding collaborative learning activities for small groups of students, many of which could be applied to online learning. For larger groups of students you may wish to consider breaking students up into groups e.g. group forums or in Blackboard Collaborate making use of break out rooms.

Large Group Activities

The University of Leicester has posted some helpful advice on teaching large groups of students . Another useful resource is this Large group teaching page from UCL

Dealing with student expectations of learning online

Outlining expectations when creating online learning activities can provide structure and guidance for students.

Outlining expectations on online activities –

  • Give ground rules on online etiquette, language, grammer. A useful guide on netiquette can be found on the Open University pages here – OU Netiquette Guide
  • Ensure students are clear on what you expect from them in terms of their interactions on the forum, and what they can expect from you in terms of your presence online. Be as responsive as you can be to encourage the same behaviour from students, if possible, encourage other students to answer questions to give you a break. Detail the subscription settings and how students can choose to unsubscribe if required
  • Take a look at this blog post on helping students to cope with the transition to online teaching from Harvard Business School.

Using shared docs for collaborative activities
Further Recommended Readings and Sources


The following sources were used in the creation of this post. The original content has been adapted. 

  • Anglia Ruskin University – CC attribution non-commercial share alike
  • Association for Learning Technology – Creative Commons Licence
  • University College London –
  • Dublin City University –
  • University of Central Florida – Creative Commons License
  • City, University London –