Contributor: Karin Barac

Using an online classroom technology, like Blackboard Collaborate, can be a daunting experience for teachers and students alike. For many it is a new and alien environment and people get stressed about the technology, which can easily distract from the task at hand: engaging in learning activities!

As such, we usually suggest that academics start out slow with simple sessions based around question and answer type activities. This allows people to get comfortable before moving onto more complex and interactive sessions. However, something that academics quickly come back to us about is that the students aren’t “engaging” in this environment and how can they get them to talk more.

The video explores this concept of “engagement” from staff and student perspectives.

So given this maybe we need to meet the students halfway in how we, as teachers, conceptualise engagement in online classrooms. Here are some tips on how you can increase the perception of engagement for yourself and students in your Collaborate sessions


  • Ask students at the start of the session to see if they are in a position to use the microphone, or if they’ll just be on chat. It helps orientate everyone to where attention should be focused during the session.
  • Get students to use the raise hand button when they have a question irrespective of whether they are going to ask that question on chat or microphone.
  • Frequently check in with students and get them to use the emoticons to signal their feelings.
  • Use the polling feature to quickly check student level of understanding.
  • Let students write-up on the whiteboard to brainstorm ideas
  • Embrace the power of the chat and the time lag to pose open-ended, deep questions for all students to respond to


Try a few of these ideas to apply to your next Collaborate session and see whether this changes your perceptions of engagement within that session.


Collaborate Moderator Pre Flight Checklist

Constructing PowerPoints for Collaborate

Further Reading

Brown, B., Schroeder, M., & Eaton, S. E. (2016). Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions. In M. A. Takeuchi, A. P. Preciado Babb, & J. Lock (Eds.). Proceedings of the IDEAS: Designing for Innovation, pp. 51-60. Calgary, Canada: University of Calgary.


3 thoughts on “Getting students to engage in online classrooms

  1. On a SET survey, I had a student comment about the long delays in my Virtual Classes. I realised if students were listening to the recording they may have been unaware of the chat activity occurring. Now I add a little explainer e.g.” If you are listening to the recording, there are a number of students writing in the chat box and I am allowing them time to post their message”. If I suspect it is going to take some time for students to write their chat message I will stop the recording. I just have to remember to turn on the recording.


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