Options for Building Remote and Hybrid Student Community

Course activities need to offer chances for students to interact with each other.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

One of the keys to successful online and hybrid learning is to create learning communities and collaboration. Simply posting course materials and videos won’t create effective learning experiences alone. Effective online learning starts when students engage with the materials and gain knowledge, but can only continue when they interact with each other and build intellectual, social communities, for example, by being part of group work, discussion, collaborative creation, and conversation. So it’s vital to think about ways to create communities and maximize engagement in your online or hybrid course.

Here are some activities and tools available to LSA that you may find useful to provide opportunities for engagement in both your synchronous and asynchronous teaching. 


Not all discussions in your online course need to be done synchronously, and even synchronous discussions can go better with asynchronous brainstorming ahead of time or follow-up discussion of specific ideas. If you teach a discussion-intensive course, there are a variety of tools that offer a space for students to interact with their peers asynchronously. Tools like Notebowl, PiazzaYellowdig, and Canvas Discussions provide opportunities for engagement in reflection, debate, brainstorming, peer-review, Q&A, and groupwork. These tools can be used as graded assignments and for informal social interactions. Notebowl has a specific “Bulletin” tool that acts as a facebook-style wall for casual interaction, and Yellowdig has gameful features built into its scoring to encourage participation. Piazza is ideal for peer-to-peer question and answer.

Collaborative Annotation

For reading-intensive courses, annotation tools such as Perusall and hypothes.is allow you to upload a variety of documents including PDF files, videos, images, and digital textbooks for students to read and annotate collaboratively online. These documents can then become discussions that encourage student engagement and deeper involvement in knowledge creation. Research shows that using such an annotation tool to deliver pre-class reading assignments leads to more students completing their reading assignments before class. Those students also performed significantly better on exams than students from the previous year when the tool was not used (Miller, Lukoff, King, & Mazur, 2018). Sharing your lecture slides, and allowing students to collaboratively annotate them, can also generate robust study guides.

Video Presentations and Reviews 

Kaltura (or MiVideo), which is present in Canvas as My Media and the course Media Gallery, lets remote students record live presentations. Take advantage of that ‘live’ element of video presentations by having students submit them as part of a peer reviewed assignment, or as responses in a discussion. If classmates are encouraged to also respond with a video, it will help build the sense of having a real person on the other side of the screen, even if students can’t be together in person very often.


iClicker Cloud is a web-based polling tool that can be used to engage students during your synchronous real-time meetings. Students in any location can respond to a variety of questions using their smartphones, tablets, or computers. Videoconferencing platforms like Zoom also have built-in polling features. While polling is often used for student-to-teacher interaction, it can also be used as a starting point for various active learning strategies like peer-instruction and small-group discussions. Student feedback from Winter 2020 suggested strongly that small-group discussion in breakout rooms was one of the most effective synchronous activities for fully remote classes.

To consult with the Learning and Teaching Technology Consultants on how to maximize engagement in your online course, please reach out to us at LSATSLearningTeachingConsultants.umich.edu





Miller, K., Lukoff, B., King, G., & Mazur, E. (2018). Use of a social annotation Platform for Pre-class reading assignments in a Flipped introductory Physics class. In Frontiers in education (Vol. 3, p. 8). Frontiers.


Release Date: 07/30/2020
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services