Specific Ideas for Promoting Participation and Interaction

What instructional strategies can you use to engage students in interactive learning?


Discussion actively involves the learners and puts some responsibility on their shoulders for:

Examples of online discussion activities:

The objective for the discussion should be stated and guidelines need to be clear. The instructor or a facilitator should moderate. Participation can be a requirement with criteria set for the minimum number of posts and for the quality of posts.

Another reason for having discussions is that quieter members of the class often get involved in discussions as they have time to reflect on the topic, consider how to word their response, and take part without having their peers watch them in the process.

Tips for fostering discussion:

Synchronous communication (chat)

Chat is a fast-paced, real-time and spontaneous activity that is primarily text-based, although many chat applications include a whiteboard component for drawing, writing, or displaying slides. The benefit of chat is that it provides immediate feedback, but it can be confusing and frustrating to students who are slow typists or more reflective thinkers.

Tips for effective chat:

Limit group chats to 4-5 participants.


Why use email in Blackboard?

Applications of email in online courses:

Examples of instructor use:

Examples of student use:


Icebreakers can bring students together in a learning community. Their stress level or anxiety can be reduced when students are more familiar with the environment and the people they are working with. At a minimum, students and instructors should introduce themselves to the group. This will open the door to two-way communication.

Questioning techniques

What simpler way to get someone to interact is there than to ask them a good question? Thought-provoking questions can be placed throughout the online experience to get the students to stop and think, and then respond. Questions can be used in a number of formats:


Participants work together to come up with as many ideas as possible in relation to a topic/problem. Rules may include: generate as many ideas as possible, anything goes, piggyback on others’ input, defer judgment of ideas till later, and all ideas are recorded. There are a number of ways to carry out brainstorming online:


It is done in pairs or groups with a spokesperson. Students defend their views or argue a point of view. Provide students with time and guidelines for preparatory research as well as reflection and discussion upon completing the activity.

Group work/projects

To be effective, group work must be well organized and well-timed. It includes peer review activities, group projects, or individual projects with a class presentation.

Planning considerations:

Role playing

Role plays are used to have students practice new behaviors in a relatively safe environment. Provide adequate time for the activity and guidelines for completing it. Present students with a scenario and assign roles. After making their presentation in a discussion forum, students reflect on the experience, receive feedback on their performance from other students and the instructor, and integrate what they have learned into an assignment.

Peer review

Instructor provides questions or criteria to use in evaluating or editing others students’ work. Students are graded based on the reviews they write as well as reviews of their work by other students. Besides increased interactions among students, peer review activities have other important benefits:

Guest speakers

Guest speakers are a means of bringing the real world to the virtual classroom. They can participate in a range of ways: through a written lecture posted online, through streaming video, or through joining a discussion group. Suggestions:


Summaries are uncomplicated but effective. They can be done individually or in groups. Students can summarize some aspects of the course’s activities, or discussions of reading. Summaries help reinforce the material, provide additional perspectives from students, and synthesize the discussion and topics of study. They are particularly good for highly interactive courses or large-size classes with many group activities.

Field trips

Trips are arranged so that students can explore real-world applications to their learning. A field trip is generally followed by classroom discussion and analysis. An alternative for debriefing is to have students produce individual reports on their learning. Online students can take individual trips in their vicinity or they can take a virtual trip on the Web. Provide links to pertinent websites or have students find appropriate sites

Scenarios and case studies

Scenarios present concrete situations than can be used to stimulate analysis, requiring students to imagine how they might respond to a particular set of circumstances. They are good for stimulating students’ thoughts about procedures and step-by-step planning. Students demonstrate concrete problem solving skills in a particular context.

Case studies, less open-ended than scenarios, present a specific situation or a set of facts. An event is described to the students and they are to use the information in that event to come to conclusions using principles and skills learned in the course. A case study can be the basis of a written assignment, question for a test, question for a discussion forum, or an individual or group assignment.

Source: Teaching Online: A Practical Guide
by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen

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