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Communication is, clearly, key to all learning. Very few of us learn effectively without communicating with others – whether they’re experts, peers or critical friends. To support our students, we’ll be looking at ways of supporting effective communication and Interaction.

Links to the Exemplary Module Framework

Section 4 – Communication and InteractionEnsure effective and consistent online communication between and among students and lecturers synchronously or asynchronously.

There are clear links between this and Section 7, Active and Social Learning.

In this post, we will focus primarily on the tools, and the structures to help the students, while in post 5 – Active and Social Learning, we’ll look at the activities. However, these distinctions are inevitably fuzzy.

Links to Blend Your Module

In Blend Your Module, we looked at the whole process of blending a module. Communication plays an important role in it all, but in this post we’ll particularly think about

We also started to think about Netiquette, which is vital when working with students online

Did you look at setting up any guidance to for your students in your particular module?

Communication Statement

In the Exemplary framework, you’ll see that you should have a module level communication statement. You may well also have discipline / school ones, however, for your module you’ll have to think about specifics.

Direct Communications from students

  • Has the school decided if direct messages from students to staff should use BB’s messages or email – or can staff decide / module?

Learning activities

  • Is the material you’re covering is likely to be sensitive / confidential?
  • If it’s audio or video – what is the recording policy for the session / the open discussion?
  • What should students do if they want to participate, but don’t have a private space?
  • If it’s text based, are students able to comment anonymously if they choose?


Video – what guidance do you have with regard to video on/off for students? (look at the comments in that post, as well as the post) One aspect that you might want to think about, as virtual meetings are likely to continue to feature in the workplace in the future – what are the benefits to students of video on as part of the preparation for the workplace? How could you use that to support them get used to it?


infographic - text only version linked to below
Created by Torrey Trust, and shared as Creative Commons
Text only version

Discussions / Conversations in Blackboard

Blackboard has introduced a new tool – the “conversation”. If you have attended Ultra 101 session 7, you’ll have seen its power. You can attach a conversation to just about any item in an Ultra module, to allow students to discuss it.
How might you make best use of both discussion boards and conversations in My Dundee – and, critically, how could you help students see the key differences.

For example, we’ve spoken to some members of staff who’ve suggested

  • Conversations – for students to ask questions / comment on this weeks work.
  • Discussions – for staff to ask targeted questions to help students link different weeks work (or between this module and others)

Would that work for your modules?


The University now has Padlet – which will allow students to share their thoughts anonymously (if you allow them to).


We also have Mentimeter – as well as the poll type questions you may have seen – did you know that you can also use Mentimeter to have a live channel for anonymous questions during a live session. You can set the questions either to show to all participants, or you can moderate them first.

Synchronous / asynchronous

Over the years, there has been research into synchronous (in the past, typically face to face) and asynchronously discussions and students for whom English is an additional language. In many cases, it’s been found that these students are more likely to contribute in an asynchronous way, as they have the time to think about their own comments e.g.. This may be something you want to consider when thinking about the balance overall between synchronous and asynchronous discussions.

Related to this – what do you do if there’s a period of silence in a live session? How do you decide if students are pondering your question, typing furiously, or mystified?

Small groups

  • How will you encourage students to participate in group work?
  • Did you know that if you set up a Blackboard assignment for group work submission, and enable the conversation tool, students can also use Collaborate Ultra in groups?
  • If it’s an assessment group, is process a key part of the assessment – or is it just the outcome you will be marking?
  • Should students select their own tools to discuss (what about students who don’t want to set up an account on …)
  • Should you provide something (will students use it if they know you can look?)

Accessibility and Legal considerations

Make sure you remember to ensure all students can engage in the activities.

  • How could you encourage students to ensure all their communication is accessible to others?
  • What would you do if some forms of communication are the most accessible form to some students, but inaccessible to others?
    • for example, if you have one student with severe hearing loss, and another other with dyslexia?


Relevant 101 sessions

External Resources

Cameras Be Damned A strongly worded view of why cameras should not be made mandatory in teaching

Mary Washington’s Refocus: Part 2 You’ll see items from Mary Washington’s refocus crop up throughout these posts, this one particularly ties to aspects of communication.

Torrey Trust’s Project pages. As well as the Infographic above, Torrey has created a lot of other useful resources, that, though aimed at K-12 teachers, are just as relevant to Higher Education.

Building Communities of Learning – a set of co-created NearPods, during the Winter ALT Conference about creating communities of learning (you could do a similar exercise with Padlet)

  1. How do you currently support your staff and students in communities of learning
  2. What challenges do you have in building up communities
  3. What safe guarding issues are there?
Hlas, A. C., Schuh, K. L., & Alessi, S. M. (2008). Native and Non-Native Speakers in Online and Face-to-Face Discussions: Leveling the Playing Field. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 36(4), 337–373.

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