Teaching Tips: Engaging Learners with Online Communication Tools

At Duke, faculty use online communication tools in their teaching to encourage group work online, hold class discussion, foster student-student interaction, and build online community. Below is a list of several communication tools and where to find help getting started:

Sakai Forums: A great way to promote whole class discussions, group-based discussions, connections between students, and share course work. To set up Sakai discussion forums, see: “Set up a Discussion Forum.”  Consider using Sakai forums to:

Piazza (Integrated with Sakai): This discussion board tool fosters student engagement and collaboration, and includes a polling tool, Q&A, and analytics. For more information see: Setup Piazza in Sakai.

Google+ Hangouts: Host a live Hangout! This is a terrific video presentation tool for hosting guests, sharing student presentations, or meeting in groups, in real-time. Hangouts allows students to engage with the presenter and participate in Q&A. Host a group chat with up to 10 people. At the conclusion of the Hangout, the video file is uploaded to YouTube, for later viewing. (Free, but requires Gmail account).

Dr. Len White shares his enthusiasm for building online community:

Dr. Len White Hangout on Air
Dr. Len White’s Google Hangout on Air for the Coursera MOOC: Medical Neuroscience

“One of the real surprises in teaching a MOOC is how much meaningful interaction, teaching and learning can happen in a Google Hangout. I had no idea before trying my first, and now I consider the Hangout to be a great means for building community in and around my course.”

Additional tools faculty may consider using to teach online include:

VoiceThread: Integrated with Sakai, VoiceThread provides students a way to create multimedia conversations using media (images, video, and documents) and comment on those via text, voice, or video. It also makes for a great icebreaker activity!  To get started, see: Voicethread (Start Multimedia Conversations). To learn how faculty are using VoiceThread in their teaching, see: Teaching with VoiceThread in the Hindi Classroom and Engage Your Learners with VoiceThread.

Duke WebEx: Duke’s cloud-based video conferencing service is a great real-time collaboration tool, virtual class meeting space, or a shared presentation space. WebEx offers students the option to take notes during a presentation, and save those to a text file. (Requires NetID).  To learn how a Duke faculty member (Dr. Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel) used WebEx, see: Summer Statistics at Duke – Online, Flipped and Synchronous!

Skype: A Skype video call is a quick way to connect synchronously with your students either one-to-one, or in a group. Students can use Skype to work on projects together or address other group work. Up to 25 students can join a Skype group call. Additional features include video messaging, file sharing, and  group screen sharing. (Requires Skype account, free service)

Todaysmeet.com: Host a synchronous text chat discussion with your students  in a virtual classroom, and download a transcript of the conversation, using this web-based tool. Free, but requires creating your virtual classroom and sending students a url to the room.

Sophia Stone, Ed.D.

Author: Sophia Stone, Ed.D.

Sophia collaborates with faculty to provide pedagogical and academic technology consulting, training, and project management, for campus-based and online initiatives. She consults on innovative teaching practices across academic disciplines, and works with faculty on course planning, course design and development, and assessment strategies. Her research interests include global online education, instructional design, faculty development, distance education, and international learners.