Encourage active learning online

Expanded guide: Encourage active learning online

Interaction is a key component of active learning.  These recommendations provide strategies for promoting active learning by encouraging students to engage in interactions both in and out of class.

Encourage active learning online using these strategies:

This diamond icon ♦ in the text indicates that there is content in the right sidebar that relates to that particular strategy.

To discuss your unique teaching and technology needs, schedule a consultation with an ATS instructional designer at instructionaldesign@ucdavis.edu. For questions about pedagogical and teaching strategies, contact the Center for Educational Effectiveness: cee@ucdavis.edu.


Establish guidelines for in-class participation

Planning interaction and establishing guidelines before you teach can help encourage active learning online.

  • Plan the types of interactions you want students to engage in. Think about how you would like to see students interact. Do you want them to have their cameras on? Do you want them to unmute during certain moments in class? Being clear about communication processes helps students feel safe about participating.
    • Technology that supports this: Zoom: Chat, video and audio settings
  • Teach your students how to use technology to engage in interaction in your classDemonstrate good participation practices and give some time in class for students to practice them.  Explicitly explain how to use the tools (e.g., Breakout Rooms, Reactions, Zoom Chat) that facilitate online interaction that are available in your online class.
  • Regularly remind your students about the importance of participationPeople often need to hear a message several times before a new behavior becomes comfortable. Remind your students at regular intervals throughout the quarter about the value you place on participation and interactions, particularly as it relates to their learning.
    • Technology that supports this: Zoom 

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Give interactive lectures

Using active learning strategies during your live session is a powerful way to engage students during your main Zoom session.

  • Share screens during synchronous Zoom meetings.
    • Share your screen to help students focus on the content that you are presenting. You might show your slides, play a video, model a process or procedure, or share another type of learning resource. Screensharing might help as you work through problems during office hours or guide students through using specialized software.
    • Have students share their screens to make a presentation, show an assignment, complete a procedure, report back, or share how they completed a pair or group activity.
    • Technology that supports this: Zoom: Screen sharing
  • Invite students to unmute their mics before you ask a question to encourage participation. This will increase the likelihood that students respond. Give positive feedback to the class when students use the tools in ways that promote interaction and support student learning.
  • Take a poll and invite students to comment on the poll resultsUse polls during class to stimulate students’ interest, gauge understanding, or elicit opinions about class material.
    • Technology that supports this: iClicker Cloud app, Zoom Polls
  • Remind students to raise their virtual “hands” to participate. Students might participate by asking questions or by answering your questions when you call for contributions. You can also call on students by name to make sure that you hear from students who may not be raising their hands. Remind students to unmute themselves when they are called on.
  • Encourage students to type their questions into the Zoom Chat window throughout the lecture.  Let students know how often you will be answering chat questions during the session (e.g., first/last 10 minutes, or every 10-15 minutes, etc.).
    • Technology that supports this: Zoom: Chat
  • Assign students short (2-3 minute) spontaneous writing tasks (Quick Writes) to stimulate thinking about a topic. Through typed or handwritten writing tasks, students can briefly summarize or synthesize material just presented, express their opinions about a topic, or explain which point from the day’s class is most unclear to them. You can also ask students to refer to their Quick Writes during discussions with peers and TAs in Breakout Rooms, Canvas Discussions or office hours. Assigning short writing tasks can provide you with an opportunity to assess students’ understanding of content and helps students engage more actively with course content.

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Build opportunities for in-class interaction

Putting students into groups to work together to encourage student-to-student interaction can be done during live class sessions using Zoom Breakout Rooms. ♦

  • Facilitate small group discussions. Take time out during your live class sessions for students to discuss a point related to the day’s topic.  In a variation of Think-Pair-Share, an instructor might ask students to first think about a prompt or question individually and write down a few thoughts before going into a breakout room to discuss it in a group of 3-4 students. When students return to the main session, you might ask a representative of the group to verbally share the results of their discussion in the main Zoom session or after class in a Google Doc or in a designated Canvas Discussion Thread.
  • Facilitate small task completion. You can also use Zoom breakout rooms to assign students to work collaboratively on tasks. For example, an instructor might assign a few problems for students to work on as a group, perhaps instructing them to spend a specified number of minutes working on the problem(s) individually before discussing their solutions in their breakout room groups. Depending on the size of the class, you might ask a representative of each group to verbally share their solutions with the class in the main Zoom session before you share the correct solution and address any questions or observed gaps in understanding.

During the breakout meetings, you can either circulate among the breakout rooms to check on them and answer questions or you can stay in the main session. When you end the breakout rooms, students have a minute or so to wrap-up their work and rejoin the main session.

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Build opportunities for out-of-class collaborations

Assigning group work that students complete outside of class Zoom sessions can provide opportunities for active learning while encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning.

  • Assign a group project or assignment that spans the entire quarter. Quarter-long group projects facilitate active learning and collaboration among students. It is recommended to design the project such that groups must submit smaller assignments along the way, with the instructor providing timely feedback on their work. You will also want to provide students with tips and strategies for a successful collaboration (e.g., exchanging contact information, establishing timelines, working from a shared Google Drive or Doc, and meeting regularly to check in on work progress).
    • Technology that supports this: Canvas Assignments, Google Drive or Doc, Google Meet, Zoom
  • ​​​​​​​Assign students to small learning groups. Assigning students to small learning groups that meet throughout the quarter allows students to help each other better understand course content. For example, groups might meet virtually outside of class to:
    • ​​​​​​​complete a low stakes, participation-based assignment (e.g., reading guide, problem set).
    • discuss common errors on recently graded work and how they arrived at correct responses.
    • review a pre-exam study guide in preparation for an exam.
    • Technology that supports this: Canvas, Google Docs, Google Meet, Zoom

​​​​​​​Requiring students to submit a document (e.g., a collaborative Google Doc or a completed handout) where they can display the work they accomplished together provides you with information about their learning process, which helps you to formatively assess student learning.

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