There are many opportunities for groups to interact and collaborate asynchronously. This approach can be utilised to help students learn from each other through discussion, creation, and reflection. To support engagement and to make a meaningful activity, these activities should be threaded through into your synchronous sessions to give each output purpose and clarity.   

Image text: Shared office documents

At the University all staff and students have access to office 365 in combination with One Drive. This tool enables students and staff to collaborate on documents, in real time, which provides a great opportunity for group work – even at a distance.

We have seen this been used successfully in multiple schools by generating a document, sharing a link to all the students in that group, then getting them to all contribute to the information. This can be especially useful when combined with a ‘jig sawing’ or ‘expert group’ approach i.e., getting different groups to create content based on different concepts/theories or viewpoints.

This information is then used in session to present back what has been learnt, the students then become the experts, sharing information back to the class and creating revision resources at the same time.

ICT | How to – Sharing Permissions | Web

Image text: Collaborative Learning Using Talis Elevate

Giving students the opportunity to look at texts in depths can help develop:

  • Independent study skills
  • Identify key elements of theoretical work to apply in practice
  • ideas and critical analyse skills
  • Communication and peer-collaboration skills

One way which this can be achieved is by using Talis Elevate. This software enables students to comment opinions and thoughts on resources including text, images, and videos. These comments can be seen, and most importantly replied to, by anyone with access to the document. This empowers staff and students to start rich conversations to stretch, question or clarify information. This also gives students the chance to learn from each other and can provide multiple viewpoints to reflect and analyse. The tool, when supported by a robust pedagogic approach, can result in deeper learning, and provide students with more opportunity to engage with set reading, audio/visual and academic sources.

Examples in practice:

Developing Students Reading Skills with Talis Elevate

Jamie Wood uses Talis Elevate within the School of History & Heritage to support students’ development of reading and analysis skills. He uses this with his students to form a pre-reading task in preparation for the main lecture. This enables students to discuss the key texts before expanding on this conversation during the main synchronous lecture.

More information about how this was embedded can be found here:

Jamie Wood – School of History & Heritage| Developing Students Reading Skills with Talis Elevate | Blog

Image text: Using Discussion-based tasks

Adding discussion-based tasks can help support:

  • students engagement and interest in a topic
  • opportunities for feedback from peers and academics to ensure students are deepening and stretching their understanding
  • presentation and communication skills

Below we have listed some different ways which this can be used in the classroom with examples. 

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards provide a simple platform for students to critique, reflect, synthesise knowledge, and build a learning community with their peers and tutors. As such, they can provide efficient and powerful asynchronous learning opportunities for students.

Whilst discussion boards can be used as an individual, stand alone activity, often discussion boards work best when they are able to use their work to feedback directly into synchronous tasks. This usually takes the form of looking at: conceptual understanding, evaluation and analysis or tasks that help students apply knowledge within practice.

Linking the discussion board to a task that will be discussed with in your synchronous task helps to make the task more meaningful and gives it a clear purpose. This also provides a solid outcome from the asynchronous task as students will know this discussion will be used to start a wider discussion and inform future learning.

We have collated a wide range of tips and ideas in conjunction with Dr Kelly Sisson, including managing your workload whilst using discussion boards. These can be found in the link below.

Encouraging Students in the Online Classroom – Discussion boards | Digital Education Support Site | Web


As a simple to use, low entry activity, Padlet provides a virtual space online which works similarly to a virtual post-it note board. This allows staff and students to add comments to questions, add video, weblinks related to topics and different key areas. Since this is a technology that can be accessed with very little instruction and embedded quickly this can be used as either an asynchronous or synchronous tool.

Padlet can be used asynchronously to gather information, opinions or to start a discussion before a main synchronous session. This will enable academics to find out key themes/ideas or identify misconceptions and adapt their teaching to reflect this outcome. Since this is a simple to use tool, which requires mostly typing, we have found students engagement to be higher than purely discussion-based tasks.

Example in practice:

Using Padlet to Support Virtual Studying

Charlotte Bailey from the National Centre for Food Manufacturing used Padlet to allow her work-based distance learners to engage outside of their synchronous session. She also used it as a way of breaking up the main lecture into short didactic teaching moments followed by input from students.

Charlotte Bailey (NCFM) | Using Padlet to Support Virtual Studying | Blog

Image text: Creating and Using Video

Video can be effective tool, whether used by staff or students, to show a range of skills or information in short, easy to digest, pieces. This can be utilised asynchronously in the form of Micro lectures, tutorials (more skills based) and a variety of other ways. Most students will have access to a camera (mobile, laptop, tablet) and can be used to create short clips or mini presentations to feedback to the group. Please see these examples practice below:

Gillian Fowler from the School of Life Sciences enabled students to work in groups of four to design and produce their own video demonstrating their learning techniques and explaining the relevance of those techniques in a forensic scenario. Students then submitted individual essays setting out their personal reflections to supplement the exercise

Showcase – Gillian Fowler | How to use video to Communicate techniques | Web