When teaching groups online, whether small or large, it is useful to consider in advance the approaches you will take and how you will co-ordinate sessions with your students
  • What size is the cohort?
  • What tool will I use to share information?
  • How can I use the functions of that tool to communicate clearly, quickly and easily?
  • How will I run interactive, discursive or collaborative activities with larger group sizes?
[Title descriptor.] Blackboard

Pre-planning when running group sessions is important to ensure a smooth transition between activities and to help keep students engaged through a structured approach to online seminars and lectures. Below are some ideas relating to group teaching that can help you when planning out your sessions.


If you haven’t already, we recommend visiting the : setting up your site section of the website. This section walks through ideas for communication and has some resources which look at effective house keeping when running a session. These ideas can be utilised for both small or large group teaching elements.

Asynchronous or Synchronous

When teaching groups online, whether small or large, it is useful to consider in advance the approaches you will take and how you will co-ordinate sessions with your students. Defining the activities and deciding the timeframe of when and how students will access activities can help you plan group sessions effectively.  I.e. pre/post-work can usually be done asynchronously and can be used to directly feed into the main synchronous session (click here to access the section on pre/post-work).

By also pre-defining when and where activities will take place will enable you to share this information with your students so they can prepare for each activity and any proposed outcomes of those activities. I.e. Even though the activity is asynchronous they may need to create elements to be shared during the synchronous session.

Related resources & activities

Link | Teaching Remotely Essentials | Link to external site
This useful resource includes information on how to utilise technology for online teaching (Collaborate Ultra and MS teams) and has a useful diagram to help you decide which software to use and when to use it for asynchronous and synchronous activities.

Active learning

Active learning, where students work individually or in groups to tackle problems, create resources and share ideas, can work just as effectively online. It can also empower students to be more involved and enhance their learning experience.

This approach can be very useful for teaching groups online but does require some pre-planning to identify activities that can support facilitated discussion in synchronous sessions. To make active learning effective you need to ensure every interaction is meaningful and purposeful. To ensure students are ‘present’ in the online session, webcams may be needed to facilitate learning and group interaction. However, some students may object for a variety of reasons. Below is a discussion on the pros and cons of getting students to use their webcams. What are your thoughts?


Related resources & activities

Digital Education Support Site | Interaction & Collaboration | Web (opens in a new window)

Digital Education Support Site | Student discussion | Web (opens in a new window)

These useful resources highlights some potential activity ideas that can be used with an active learning approach

Teaching large groups

Collaborate rooms provide an interactive online space for synchronous teaching events for up to 250 users at a time. Blackboard have introduced a ‘Large group’ feature for group sizes for up to 500, but to make the system stable at this scale, some of the interactivity features available below 250 participants has been switched off.

For large cohorts; synchronous teaching events should be carefully planned to realistically manage groups online.It may be that pre-recording items, such as sharing information for entire cohorts (like introducing yourself for example) may provide a better experience than large-scale presentations on Collaborate.

Is this the right approach for you? An alternative could be to encourage students to self-manage their peer-working space through Blackboard groups or directing students to group chats on MS Teams, which would remove the administrative reliance on tutors to manage multiple Collaborate rooms.

To help you decide the right approach for you, we have placed a decision tree diagram below. This will guide you towards the correct guidance for your needs (see helpsheets below graphic).

Image text: Managing large groups in collaborate. This is a decision tree which will show you what your options are: Is your cohort size 250+? No: Collaborate should be stable with cohort sizes up to 250 with full functionality. Yes: Do some of your students need to share video/audio? No: Schedule your Collaborate session and enable the Large scale session (250+) function called ‘Allow 250+ attendees to join’ (See Large scale Collaborate session guidance for details). Yes: Do you need to use breakout groups? No: Use the ‘Large scale session’ guidance and upgrade students to presenters as needed. Yes: Make use of Blackboard groups to subgroup your cohort and then run multiple smaller Collaborate sessions utilising breakout groups. (See Breakout group guidance for details).

Related resources & activities

Helpsheet | Scheduling & running a large scale session | PDF | Doc

Helpsheet | Running breakout groups in a large scale session | PDF | Doc

Image Text [Alternate Methods]

HyFlex learning, an approach that simultaneously combines face-to-face teaching with online participation can be extraordinarily difficult to deliver successfully for everyone, especially with large cohorts. Our recommendation would be to adopt separate online and face to face sessions to help ease facilitation.

However, there may be occasions where this cannot be avoided, especially if responding to changing circumstances where facilitating online participation enables continuity of access. Press the button below to link to a page on HyFlex learning and potential strategies you can use.

Microsoft Teams Logo

Hyflex Learning