These are challenging and unsettling times and it is recognised that planning for course delivery, when the future is uncertain, is difficult. In order to ensure, however, that the University can deliver teaching to all current and new students in September, it is important that preparations begin as soon as possible.

Many students will be keen to return to campus as quickly as possible, to be provided with aspects of learning in a safe environment, while others are likely to begin the next academic year studying online, unable to travel to campus. Courses should therefore be designed to enable all learning materials to be accessible, irrespective of where a student is.

Plans should ensure that students can participate either on-campus, or remotely using technology such as Blackboard Collaborate or Microsoft Teams. It is acknowledged that it may not always be possible for every student to join at a given time and therefore, wherever possible, recordings of sessions and/or additional material should be made available to those who are unable to attend.

The following resources are some suggestions of ways to provide an equitable experience for all students irrespective of location.


Group Work

What you can do

Things to consider

Studies have shown the many benefits collaborative group work can have on the student learning experience. On-campus courses may use tutorials to allow students to meet in small groups to work through tasks together. This approach can easily be adapted to the blended learning environment, as follows:

Option One: Small groups comprised solely of either on-campus or online students

On-campus students: In this, familiar model, tutorial settings can still be used, provided careful consideration is given to the space available for each group. Students may be asked to work outside of the classroom, with a set time given for them to return.

Online students: The equivalent learning experience for online students can be achieved using breakout rooms in Blackboard Collaborate or the creation of new channels in Microsoft Teams.

In order to facilitate either approach, carefully consider the role of the tutor in supporting students and how they should interact with the class. This could be by moving around the physical or online room(s) or waiting for students to request support.

Option Two: Small groups with a deliberate mixing of on-campus and online students

This model requires at least one on-campus student to have access to a computer, through which online student(s) members can join the discussion. It is particularly important to consider the size of the groups in this model to ensure no student is ‘forgotten’ and left out of discussion. To mitigate against this, students could be provided with advice and training on how to facilitate this type of discussion and it might be appropriate to suggest that online student is the chair/facilitator.

Things to consider

  • Remember students may be impacted by time zone or other restrictions on their availability.

    o If class sizes are is small, it may be possible to identify a ‘best time’ for student groups to meet.

    o Websites can help with finding optimum times for worldwide meeting planning.

    o It is not expected that staff or students are available during the hours that would be normal for sleeping etc.

  • Consider tutors making a short recording of key discussion points at the end of sessions to ensure that students who were not able to join can still benefit from the learning opportunity.

How to do it

There are a large range of tools available to support group work within blackboard including blogs, discussion boards, wikis etc You could also use the group assignment option in blackboard this does not need to be a formal assessment) You could also consider setting up msTeams channels for separate groups

Any pedagogical evidence base

Orr, S. (2010) Collaborating or fighting for the marks? Students’ experiences of group work assessment in the creative arts, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35:3, 301-313, DOI: 10.1080/02602931003632357

Elliott CJ & Reynolds M (2014) Participative pedagogies, group work and the international classroom: an account of students' and tutors' experiences, Studies in Higher Education, 39:2, 307-320, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2012.709492

Hammar CE, (2014) Group work as an incentive for learning – students’ experiences of group work Frontiers in Psychology 5: 558 DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00558

Use Collaborate

What you can do

Blackboard Collaborate or Microsoft Teams can be used to provide virtual classrooms for conducting synchronous teaching sessions. The eLearning team in the Centre for Academic Development can advise on which platform will work best for your needs.

Virtual classrooms can be used to provide a bridge between what is happening in an on-campus classroom and an online classroom. For example, using Collaborate can enable the sharing of classroom screens to allow on-campus and online students to view the same content and to discuss/ask questions. 

For a truly interactive session you might want to consider using Ombea to run a class quiz.

Things to consider

  • Provide clear instructions for both on-campus and online students on how to interact with tutors and each other (i.e. hand raising)  
  • Repeat questions raised in the on-campus classroom to ensure online students have heard the discussion (microphones are unlikely to pick up all on-campus classroom discussions) 
  • Consider team teaching and having another tutor in the room with you to act as a link between the online and the on-campus classrooms. It can be difficult to manage the physical room and remembering to check the online room. 
  • Consider recording the session, if appropriate, for those students who are unable to join at the set time or who have poor internet connections. 

How to do it


What you can do

An essential component of a flexible learning approach, asynchronous learning supports the building of relationships between learners and staff, even when participants cannot be on-campus and/or online, at the same time. This can be most commonly facilitated using media, including email, discussion boards, blogs and twitter. Asynchronous learning enables learners to log on to the VLE at any time to download documents, send messages to peers or engage with guided activities.

There are a range of ways in which asynchronous learning can be incorporated into a course, enabling students who are able to return to campus and those who are not, to develop links and interactions with each other and to develop a cohort dynamic.

Things to consider

  • Allow sufficient time for the completion of any compulsory asynchronous activities to allow for the time zone differences.
  • Allow sufficient time for students to prepare what they would like to share, as this can be daunting for some.
  • Remember an asynchronous approach does not need to be solely written – students could be asked to post short video clips or to co-create infographics.

Pedagogical Evidence base

Borup, J.  West, RE. & Graham CR. (2012) Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. The Internet and Higher Education. 15(3) 195-203

Glenn CW. (2016) Adding the human touch to asynchronous online learning. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice.19(4) 381-393


What you can do

Sometimes called a personal response system (PRS), or class quiz tool, or audience response system. 

The basic idea is that these tools allow you to introduce question into your class which student then use and web enabled device to enter their repose in real time, then the class data can be presented on the screen (normally as a histogram) and you can then lead a discussion around the responses. The major advantage of this type of tool is it makes no difference if the students are in the room with you or anywhere else in the world. You simply share your screen using collaborate, and run the software response software (we use Ombea) 

It does take a bit of setting up, and thinking through how to structure your session. I would recommend doing a practice run with some colleagues before you first attempt in class. 

Some options to consider

  1. Have a question after every few slides to keep attention, or to stimulate discussion. This can be really good if the questions is one that is opinion based so no truly correct answer. 
  2. Use as part of a recap session so no new teaching material introduced. Then you can skip through the questions that majority of the class get correct and slow down and focus on the ones where there is more confusion. I often ask for a volunteer to explain why they choose the correct answer over the other options 

As you get more confidant with the tool you can start to introduce an element of fun, by having student in groups and incorporating a leader boards at the end which show who the highest scoring group were. 

Things to consider

Although the system does allow you to look at each individuals scores, I instead tell student that it is up to them to be aware that if they are consistently getting questions wrong that most of the others are getting right then they should arrange to have a meeting with me to talk about what is causing the problems and help to find solutions, this can be good way of identifying student who are finding learning in the online environment more challenging 

Student with disabilities that require them to have extra time to read and process information can find this difficult to engage with, some ways that can help are that you read out the question to the class, and you may consider releasing the question ahead of time to these student to give them the extra time needed to read and understand. 

How to do it

The software we use in Aberdeen is Ombea