How do I  encourage interactions and collaborations in the online learning environment? 

How do I  encourage interactions and collaborations in the online learning environment? 

Thereis some overlap between ‘how to encourage active learning’ and ‘how to encourage interactions and collaborations’ as many of the activities suggested in active learning involve collaboration and peer to peer learning. This section, however, will focus on how you can motivate, and support, students undertaking these activities and will provide some additional information on how to encourage interactions.


Code of Conduct

What you can do

One way to support student interaction and to enable students to understand exactly what is expected of them, is to set out clear expectations of engagement and guidance on acceptable behaviour. You could consider setting this as an early activity or an icebreaker, by asking students to generate and agree a code of conduct.

Alternatively, we have provided a tried and tested example Code of Conduct from the School of Psychology, which you may want to use.

How to do it

Example Code of Conduct for interactions from the School of Psychology.

Synchronous Quiz

What you can do

If you are planning on using tutor-led synchronous sessions, consider adding in short quizzes using Ombea. Quick questions, asked following every 2 or 3 slides, can be used as a tool to allow students to answer multiple choice questions and for responses to be displayed on-screen. An element of competition can be introduced by arranging students into groups and having a leader board that shows which groups achieve the highest score.

Don’t try to ’lecture' in Collaborate, instead include frequent opportunities for participation – ask questions, use polls, encourage discussion and make use of break out rooms.

Things to consider

As this works with a synchronous session you should consider recording the session using Panopto, for those who can’t attend at the timetable slot. Encourage those watching the recording to play along and attempt each question, comparing their score to overall the class scores.

Keeping Students Engaged

What you can do

We are all likely to have experienced being in an online conference or call and being distracted by a second screen, mobile or tablet. When teaching online, it should be expected that there will be distractions competing for students’ attention. Therefore, it is important, not only to seek to hold students’ attention, but to have ways to get their attention back when we lose it. This is particularly true if we are using video to present. Although you may have worked hard to break you lecture down into mini podcasts, it might not be enough to ensure student engagement. On-campus, staff use body movements, facial expressions, arm waving and movement around the room all for the purpose of keeping student engaged. While online, many of these options have been removed, there are a few easy things you can do to help.

Things to consider

  • If using animation, remember not to include any text or images in the lower section of the screen. This is where the closed captioning will appear.

How to do it

Movement on the screen

You can do this by simply changing your mouse pointer to be more obvious (i.e. change the colour, size or even shape). Then make sure you move it around the screen to keep the student following where you want them to look (this obviously assumes you have something that is interesting to look at!).

You could also go back to an ‘old-fashioned’ animated slide in PowerPoint, with text coming in, pictures being slowly revealed through boxes being removed, or if you have a flow diagram show each step at a time as you describe it. Use slide transitions so the slides fade away or move upward and consider including audio.

Presenter on screen

If you utilise video in your session, ensure you talk directly to the camera. This will give the viewer the impression of eye contact. If you normally use your arms to

demonstrate things, continue to do this too. This creates more attention-grabbing movement.

Mix up the media

Consider having frequent pauses during a lecture, during which you instruct students to do something. This could include asking students to press pause on a video, taking 5 minutes to note down ideas on a topic, and pressing play again when they are ready. Use this opportunity to start again with a ‘welcome back’ message. Don’t be afraid to use humour here – consider starting back with ‘who skipped that instruction…I know some of you did!’. Students respond well to the sense that they are being spoken to directly, even if it is a pre-recorded session.

Mix up the presenters

No matter how engaging a lecturer you are, we all tend to tune out after a while to the same voice. If content allows, consider making a video with more than one presenter. Options include taking turns to present, recording a discussion between two people, or staging an informal panel discussion or presentation.

Peer Feedback

What you can do

Providing good feedback is an essential component in helping students learn and provides the opportunity for a personalised learning experience.

Students have been asked to carefully articulate what they know about a subject but also to effectively communicate points. Providing students with the opportunity to review and critique others’ work not only helps then to develop their communication skills, but also will enhance their understanding of the purpose of the task from the ‘consumer’ rather than the ‘producer’ view.

There are many ways in which peer feedback opportunities can be incorporated within a course, whether through responses to discussion boards post, or feedback on presentations or articles.

How to do it

Here are some example documents of advice to students on providing feedback.

Pedagogic evidence base

Esther van Popta, Marijke Kral, Gino Camp, Rob L. Martens, P. Robert-Jan Simons, Exploring the value of peer feedback in online learning for the provider, Educational Research Review, 2017,(20) Pages 24-34,

Assessments as activities

What you can do

Students are motivated to achieve high grades, a motivation that can be utilised to increase their engagement with the learning materials. The closer an activity aligns to the potential for improving grades, the greater the motivation will be for students to engage. Instead of students working individually on their assignments, consider including a class activity as part of of an assignment.

Things to consider

  • This works best if there is scope for students to tailor the assignment.
  • This wouldn’t work well if there is only one correct answer and one way to arrive at this.
  • If you have an assignment which allows students to produce a wide variety of responses, you might consider framing activities around this.

How to do it

An example from a postgraduate research methods course where the major assessment for students is to produce a research proposal on a topic of their choice:

This assignment is a high stakes assignment worth 80%. The majority of students will not have had previous experience of an assignment of this nature.

Students are asked to work on small sections of the proposal each week, supplemented with interactive classes. Activities are mixed up and begin with types of activity they are used to. Students are given examples of research questions and in groups (working with who they choose) they critique and improve these and, the following week, the class all submit their own research questions. These are shared around for groups to critique and suggest improvements. The composition of the groups is then changed, to allow students to be grouped together based on their study design and to enable discussions on issues specific to design and search. Students are also asked to role play an ethics committee. Each week’s activity directly relates to an aspect of the proposal that they should be working on. All the activities are run in a blended format with students able to join either on-campus or online.

This is a very extensively developed model which runs through the entire semester. Smaller versions, where the activities run for 1 or 2 weeks only and are directly related to helping prepare for the assessments, are also a possibility.