There are a variety of tools to facilitate conversation and collaboration between instructor and student and among students.  These tools also allow students to communicate from a distance and provide a more comfortable method of communication for some shy students. Common tools include discussion boards, blogs, and wikis.  There are a variety of programs that offer these tools including Canvas.

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are asynchronous, meaning that it allows for individuals to communicate at different points in time. The instructor typically poses a thread on a discussion board, or a question to the class. Students can then respond to the instructors’ thread and to one another’s comments. 


A blog is thought of as an individual journal that is published online and contains one’s personal reflections. A blog often consists of multiple entries that may or may not be organized around a theme. Blogs allow you to publish text, as well as upload files and embed images and hyperlinks. Many students find writing blogs to be more valuable than traditional papers because they allow the student to share their ideas with a wider audience. Further, the skills they learn through blogging may be helpful in their future careers.


A wiki is an asynchronous communication tool that allows users to access and edit information at any time.  The most commonly known wiki is Wikipedia. Wikis allow you to publish text, as well as upload files and embed images and hyperlinks.  Whereas a blog is more useful if you want your students to compile individual posts, wikis are more useful if you want your students to develop a written product as a group. Wikis are also useful for sharing information with your students from information about course logistics to summarized information on a given topic.

Some suggestions for how to use these communication tools effectively include:

  • Teach students appropriate, safe, and respectful behavior as online authors and readers. If you use tools other than Canvas (which is FERPA compliant), for safety purposes, ensure that students do not reference their identity, contact information, or information about their location.
  • Create prompts/questions that reinforce understanding of instructional goals and objectives.
  • Create open-ended questions that invite diversity of response. 
  • Create questions that are at a medium level of difficulty. If questions are too easy, it does not lead to student learning and if the questions are too challenging, students have little to contribute to the discussion.
  • Provide clear expectations including deadlines and information about writing quality. One way to clarify expectations is to provide a model of a good post. Providing a rubric to your students can also be helpful. You may want to consider adapting available rubrics (e.g., Rubric for Discussion Boards, Rubric for Blogs 1, Rubric for Blogs 2, Rubric for Wikis 1, Rubric for Wikis 2). If you use these tools commonly in your class and have limited time for providing feedback, you may want to select random posts to grade. For example, you might grade all students’ discussion board posts during weeks 3, 7, and 14 of your class.
  • Encourage/require peer review and feedback. You will want to clarify expectations for students around responding to their classmates. This may involve modeling a good response. Receipt of feedback via blogs, wikis, etc. allows students to receive feedback from a wider audience than one’s instructor and can help create a collaborative classroom climate.
  • Regularly participate.
  • If you teach a large class, organize assignments so that not too many students respond to each discussion board thread, blog, etc.  Have no more than 20 students responding to each thread, blog, etc. This allows students to read their classmate’s posts without being overwhelmed. It also increases the likelihood that they will have a unique contribution to the discussion.

Information Delivery

Presentation Tools

One of the most common tools for delivering information in the classroom is PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a presentation tool that allows an instructor to create “slides” that include text, images, and embedded audio and video files. Although PowerPoint is frequently used in instruction, it can do more harm than good because it fails to stimulate student interest.1, 2 This is partly because instructors do not acknowledge that the human attention span ranges from 10-20 minutes in length and that students prefer lectures that include short breaks with activities.3,4 If you plan to use PowerPoint in your class, consider the following tips:

  • Do not read the content of your PowerPoint slides.  This is a proven way to put your students to sleep.  Instead, you should be familiar enough with the organization and content of your PowerPoint to elaborate on the slides.
  • Limit the number of words that you include on your slides. If you must include substantial text on your slide, provide time for your students to process the text.  Simply say “I will give you a minute to read this and then we are going to talk about it.”
  • Substitute images for words if possible. This recommendation is aligned with research which suggests that humans are better able to process language and images simultaneously while processing two forms of language (written and spoken) at the same time is often challenging.5 Although it is helpful to include images, they should only be used if they convey information that is relevant to the content you are teaching.
  • If you want your students to shift their focus away from your PowerPoint, for example to focus instead on their classmates during a discussion, when you are in Presenter mode, you can simply select “B” on your keyboard to black-out your screen and “W” when you choose to display the PowerPoint again.
  • Consider your own teaching style and whether PowerPoint supports your strengths as a instructor (hear how other UT instructors’ opinions on the effectiveness of PowerPoint and how they use it in their teaching)
  • Use appropriate fonts. Sans-serif fonts such as Arial or Helvetica are typically easier for most people to read in digital formats. Font sizes should be at least 24 points and you should avoid italics if possible.
  • Don’t let your PowerPoint limit you. If students are engaged by a question that you intend to cover later in your PowerPoint, you may want to disregard your PowerPoint organization and discuss that issue while you have students’ attention. Many critics do not like PowerPoint because it uses a linear, chronological approach. If your content does not lend itself to a linear organization, consider using presentation tools such as Prezi. 

Inverted Learning

Information delivery is an important component of teaching, however, information delivery can occur outside the classroom walls. This has been done for centuries in language education in which students learn new vocabulary from their textbook outside of class time.  Advances in technology are enabling instructors to provide their students with more information at home.

When information is accessed at home, this frees up class time to focus on knowledge application. This model of instruction is commonly known as “inverted learning” or “the flipped classroom” (access an information graphic that illustrates inverted learning). In addition to providing more time for knowledge application, other benefits of this approach include:

  • Inverted learning allows students to process and integrate information at their own pace. For example, students can read a passage slowly or several times if needed. Similarly, students who speak English as a second language may find it particularly beneficial to process information at their own speed.  For example, they may choose to watch a video clip in a slower speed.
  • Inverted learning encourages students to monitor their learning and make adjustments to their learning strategies.  These skills are referred to as self-regulation, which is critical in becoming a life-long learner.

Technology can assist you in implementing inverted learning in your classroom. For example, you can provide your students with videos that they can view at home.  These videos can serve as a replacement for lecture.  You may decide to create your own instructional videos using tools such as The Record Audio function in PowerPoint, Audacity, Lecture Capture or NCH Video Capture. Although creating your own videos allows you to control information delivery and create videos that align with best teaching practices (e.g., videos should not be overly long to accommodate limited human attention spans), it also takes substantial time to create these resources. 

Consider searching existing repositories to identify videos that meet your needs. Some repositories that you may search include YouTube, TED, UT Digital Archives Services, Wikimedia Commons, and the Library of Congress

Active Learning

Active learning refers to students reading, writing, discussing, and solving problems in the classroom.6  This is consistent with an emphasis on knowledge application or the idea that students should not only understand the information you present in your course but that they can make use of that information, often in a real-world context.

Problem-based learning represents one active learning strategy.  When using problem-based learning strategies, the primary role of the instructor is to facilitate student learning through guidance and feedback. In addition to receiving instructor support and feedback, often students will also use a variety of resources such as course readings, independent research, and interaction with peers to solve problems. One of the primary benefits of problem-based learning is that it can increase motivation by promoting student interest and valuing of learning.7

There are a variety of techniques for integrating problem-based learning in your class such as through the use of case studies. One way in which you can use technology to implement problem-based learning is through the incorporation of interactive simulations.

A simulation is a virtual program which mimics a real-life process.  There are several benefits of engaging students in simulations over real-world experiences. If the real-world procedure may bring harm to the student or to others, consider using simulations. For example, simulations are common in the medical field where students could harm patients if they perform a procedure incorrectly. For safety and expense reasons, flight simulations are commonly used to train new pilots. 

Simulations also allow students to pause and reflect on their learning or decisions. Simulations can also take students’ development into consideration. For example, the simulation used by Feldon and Gilmore allows students who are learning about infectious disease spread to add more variables (e.g., duration of infectious period, number of people in the population) to their investigation over time. There are a variety of simulations that are available for free such as a simulation that mimic trading on the stock market, that illustrate mathematical and physics principles, and allow students to explore the world and culture.8

Immediate Feedback

Theories of human learning indicate that feedback is critical in the learning process. For example, Robert Gagné’s theory about the conditions of learning posits that feedback is one of the nine critical phases in the learning process.9 Similarly, B.F. Skinner indicates that feedback is most helpful in learning when it is received immediately following a response. When a student receives immediate feedback, it allows him or her to correct any misconceptions he/she holds. This is important because the longer a misconception persists, the more challenging it is to change. In the classroom, it is challenging to provide immediate feedback to students. Class sizes do not permit instructors to monitor individual student work and provide real-time feedback on their learning and performance.

Technology can assist you with providing your students with immediate feedback. Student response systems, or clickers, are one of the most common methods for providing students with immediate feedback.  Research indicates student response systems have a positive impact on student learning-related outcomes. They increase student engagement and interest, and lead to gains in learning particularly among students in the lowest quartile of the class.10,11,12,13

One example of immediate feedback technology is student response systems such as the clicker.  The clicker is the wireless device (see below). To use student response systems, you will need to either have students purchase the device or you will need to use online tools (such as that allow students to respond from electronic devices such as smartphones or laptops. To use clickers in your class, pose a multiple choice question to students (There are also some tools that allow students to respond to more open-ended questions like the Learning Catalytics system) and provide them with time to indicate their answer using their clicker.  After all students have submitted their answers, display the correct answer as well as the frequency with which students selected each response option (see below). Next, take a moment to invite discussion about why the incorrect answers were not appropriate and how students identified the correct answer. Watch this video to see clickers in action.

In addition to clickers, Canvas can be used to provide students with immediate feedback for questions that have a single correct answer. Canvas assessment features include a variety of item types (learn more about available assessment types in Canvas). When students submit their response to a question that has a single correct answer, they receive feedback on whether their answer was correct or incorrect immediately following the assessment.  As an instructor, you can also provide an explanation in Canvas about why the correct answer was appropriate and why the incorrect answers were not.  This can help students correct any misconceptions in their thinking.

You can also provide immediate feedback to your students through the use of colored cards. Distribute four cards to your students: a blue card labeled, “A,” a red card labeled, “B,” a green card labeled, “C,” and a yellow card labeled, “D.”  After posing a multiple choice question to students, have students raise the card that aligns with their answer.  The benefit of using colored cards is that it allows the instructor to quickly assess the frequency of each answer choice.  Clickers and Canvas assessments offer a benefit over this low-tech version in that students respond anonymously. Thus, when using cards, students may be tempted to select the card that they see other students choosing. 


(1) Wired. (2003). PowerPoint is evil. Retrieved from

(2) Clark, J. (2008). PowerPoint and pedagogy: Maintaining student interest in university lectures. College Teaching, 56(1), 37-45.

(3) Middendorf, J. & Kalish, A. (1996). The “Change-Up” in Lectures. The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 5, 2.

(4) Revell, A. & Wainwright, E. (2009). What makes lectures “unmissable”? Insights into teaching excellence and active learning. Journal of geography in higher education, 33(2), 209-223.

(5) Paivio, A. (1986). Mental Representations. New York: Oxford University Press.

(6) Bonwell, C., C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from ERIC Reproduction Service (ED 340 272)

(7) Blumenfeld, P.C., Soloway, E., Marx, R.W., Krajcik, J.S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A., (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3 & 4), 369-398.

(8) Feldon, D. & Gilmore, J. (2006).  Patterns in Children’s Online Problem Solving:  A Large N-Microgenetic Study.  In G. Clarebout & J. Elen (Eds.), Avoiding simplicity, confronting complexity: Advances in studying and designing (computer-based) powerful learning environments (pp. 117-126).  Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

(9) Gagné, R. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

(10) DeBourgh, G. A. (2008). Use of classroom “clickers” to promote acquisition of advanced reasoning skills. Nurse Education in Practice, 8, 76-87.

(11) Morling, B., McAuliffe, M., Cohen, L., & DiLorenzo, T. M. (2008). Efficacy of personal response systems (“Clickers”) in large, introductory psychology classes. Teaching of Psychology, 35, 45-50.

(12) Mayer, R. E. Stull, A., DeLeeuw, K., Almeroth, K., Bimber, B., Chun, D., Bulger, M., Campbell, J., Knight, A., & Zhang, H. (2009). Clickers in college classrooms: Fostering learning with questioning methods in large lecture classes. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34, 51–57.

(13) Edmonds, C.T., & Edmonds, T.P. (2008). An empirical investigation of the effects of SRS technology on introductory managerial accounting students. Issues in Accounting Education, 23(3), 421-434.