Teaching effectively in virtual classrooms

"Active learning takes time in every session. Don't waste valuable time with content. Use it to empower students to show what they know and most importantly where the gaps are." Steve Rowe, School of Business & Tourism, SCU.

Steve Rowe, lecturer with SCU's School of Business and Tourism, has been using virtual classrooms in his teaching since 2005 when he introduced this learning technology to SCU. He continues to actively promote effective teaching practice using Blackboard Collaborate (SCU's virtual classroom technology) and regularly contributes to SCU's weekly free-for-all staff training sessions (see below).
In this set of short videos, Steve offers advice that can help you and your students get the most from using virtual classrooms in your teaching.


Avoid giving the perception that you, as the teacher, are going to 'do' content for the students.

    • For example, use online sessions to enrich and deepen the work students have already undertaken, or encourage them to return to specific parts of the content.

Give first priority to attendees of the session.

    • For example, start by focusing on answering questions posed by students attending the session. Ask students to post these questions on the whiteboard or in the chat area.

Use asynchronous forums to support live sessions.

    • For example, address the questions and issues posed by students in the Discussion Forums over the previous week. Have a slide prepared, ready to address these questions.

Teach for active learning, as you would in any type of classroom.

    • For example, encourage students to articulate their question or issue in order to discuss and flesh out what the barrier is to their understanding. Encourage discussion to deepen the students' understandings.


What advice do you have for staff new to teaching in virtual classrooms?

Get out of the way!

    • Step out of the students' learning space by looking for opportunities to get the students active in the session, whether through discussion or other activities.

Use session recordings for professional development.

    • Reflect on how you could improve and adapt your approaches. Ask a work colleague to review the recording, as a form of peer review after you have undertaken a self-review.

If students are presenting via the virtual classroom they can record a practice presentation and then review and use it to improve their performance

What changes have you made after watching session recordings?

Use whiteboard tools for guiding students through a slide or other content.

    • For example, use a pointer, or use a white box (on a white slide) to reveal the content as you speak.

Harness the poll tool.

    • Student polls break up the presentation, keep students active and test their understanding.

Leverage the 'silent majority' through the chat area.

    • 'Pausing' the session to address student questions and comments in the chat area gives everyone time to reflect on content. Silence is okay.
    • Aim to make students' contributions central to the session, while addressing areas of difficulty.


Use the chat area to personalise the learning experience.

    • Using audio and chat simultaneously allows a broader range of contributions in far less time than waiting for all to speak.
    • Right clicking on a whiteboard object shows you which student created it.
    • Demonstrate the value of student contributions by referring to specific contributions, highlighting differences and similarities.
    • Cut and paste important student contributions from the chat area to the whiteboard as the basis for further student activity.

Use the polling tool as an educational technology.

    • Harness any similarities and differences in polling results as a basis for group discussion.
    • Publishing poll results to the whiteboard provides an enduring artefact for group discussion. The same poll may be repeated after a group discussion to discuss how results have changed.
    • Decide whether it is appropriate to set the poll so students cannot initially see the responses of others.
    • Polls provide a quick way to gauge student understanding on a topic being discussed.

Remember the asynchronous dimension of virtual classrooms.

    • Where appropriate, include instructions for students who are watching the recording. They are really additional silent members of the room.

Student attendance is not everything.

    • Session recordings provide a valuable means for students to engage with the content. This is also the case for student discussion forums that feed student questions into the live sessions. Don't make flexibility inflexible.

Add value for student attendance.

    • For example, only provide PowerPoint slides via the live session or the recording (as a download).
    • Remember to take advantage of those students who are attending, as their questions are often important for those students watching the recording.



    • Students can undertake a short practice presentation in the virtual classroom that can be used for self-critique purposes (using recording) prior to their main presentation.
    • Student presentations in Collaborate can be submitted as a recording for marking, if appropriate.
    • In group work, virtual classrooms can be used by students as a recordable meeting space.
    • Guest lecturers and expert presentations can be facilitated through virtual classrooms, and included into assessment where appropriate (e.g. student reflection or follow-up analysis).
    • Other options include online student debates or panel discussions in which students move between 'breakout rooms' to interact with staff from across an entire course (e.g. as an online orientation).
    • Don't forget the value of encouraging the use of the space for study groups and social exchanges.

If you are new to Blackboard Collaborate and would like assistance with getting started, visit the Teaching with Technology page.

For hands-on help, and to take your Collaborate skills further, you can attend Explore Blackboard workshops that are held at the commencement of each teaching session. In addition, regular free-for-all Collaborate sessions are held at 12 noon on Friday of every teaching week.

Both opportunities for informal staff skill development are facilitated by technology experts in the Support and Training Collaborate room at the Blackboard Support for Staff Users site. Recordings of previous workshops and sessions are also available at the site.