A Quick Guide to Converting your Face-to-Face Pedagogical Approaches to the Online Environment

Getting Started

Many of the strategies used for student engagement in face-to-face classes can be modified for use in the online environment, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Student engagement will be more focused when they are asked to do something relevant to the course learning objectives, so always communicate the purpose of the activity to students. The online environment also facilitates group production of knowledge so take advantage of the many ways students can create a product (such as a slide or slide-set; shared whiteboard notes; quick audio or video recording; or shared document) that demonstrates their knowledge. Remember, too, that activities may take longer to set up in the synchronous online environment, so allow for these delays in your class schedule.

Some common classroom techniques are outlined below, with suggestions for their modification for online environments.

Please also see these resources from Boston University’s Professional Development & Postdoctoral Affairs: A recorded workshop and resources on “Translating In-Person Teaching Strategies Online”

Approach used in face-to-face classroom Adapting to synchronous online classroom Adapting to asynchronous online classroom
Introductions around the room (for seminar and classes with less than 35 students); learning student names Students take turns introducing themselves through the camera/audio; they can also contribute a slide to a shared class slide set that lists everyone;

In Zoom, participant names are shown (students may change how their names are shown for security, if needed)

Students can contribute a slide to a shared class slide-set that lists everyone; use discussion forum or similar posting thread for introductions; utilize video/audio tools to post to introduction space; social media tools such as Slack or a class Twitter can also provide good platforms
Introductions for large classes Students may contribute a slide to a series of shared class PPTs that list everyone in the class; In Zoom, participant names are shown (students may change how their names are shown for security, if needed) As above, although Slack may be difficult to manage unless large classes are divided into teams/sections through “channels”
Visual presence in every session and throughout class Visual presence should be maintained unless there are bandwidth or data access issues; students may then turn off their video but maintain audio contact, as needed (check in with these students periodically to make sure they are still present!) Visual presence is not necessary in asynchronous classes, but participatory presence can be established through forums and social media platforms
Lecture Instructor may share slides and use annotation or whiteboard function (in Zoom) for synchronous notes; additional techniques for sharing notes or text are described in this video; remember that mini-lectures (up to 10 minutes) are preferred in online environment, so provide activities for breaks Instructor may pre-record lectures with slides and annotation tools as for synchronous lecture; chunk lectures into sections of up to 10 minutes and intersperse with activity; additional tips for creating
Brainstorming Students may write text simultaneously on a shared whiteboard or prepared PPT slide, using annotation function (Zoom) or use the Chat function to write down ideas (Note: Annotation is anonymous in Zoom) The “live” aspects of brainstorming are more difficult to capture in asynchronous classes, but threads in forums can focus ideas; social media platforms may also highlight focused attention to specific participation
Small group discussion and reporting out Students work in breakout rooms with video and audio; they may record ideas on whiteboard to share with larger group Groups can be formed in Blackboard, Google or social media such as Slack to focus on topic for timed period (e.g. 1-3 days) and then report back to larger group through whole-class forum through text, audio, or video
Case studies or extended problem-based discussion Case study can be screen-shared with the students, who may work in small groups (breakout rooms) or as whole class to answer questions. Responses can be made through the chat function, through a whole class google doc, through annotations (depending on size of class – works best in small group), or through video/audio discussion Pose questions in Discussion Board or social media platform for initial written/voice/video responses and then ask for follow-up responses – either to instructor-posed questions or to peer comments and questions; schedule windows of time for each of these activities; Blackboard groups may also be set up as needed
Think-Pair-Share Students work in breakout rooms with video/audio enabled; they can record their ideas on breakout room whiteboard, and then share with larger group in a report-out session Less applicable as an immediate feedback technique in asynchronous setting, though see small group work for ideas for a slow “think-pair-share”; Padlet boards could also be used to highlight pair interaction; Blackboard groups can also be set up
Jigsaw discussion (assigning parts of reading or problem to students to discuss and report back) Students may work in breakout rooms on their assigned part of reading or problem; report back verbally, through whiteboard, google doc, or shared slide set Use group functions in Blackboard or social media platforms and create whole class space for reporting back (e.g. Discussion Board)
Large group discussion Students share with whole group using video and audio. Establish organization for participation: raise hands visually; raise hands through icons (remind students to remove icon after speaking); or use “Stack” approach in Chat – that is, students can write their name followed by “on Stack” and instructor can follow the order posted to Chat Students respond to prompts on discussion threads; these can be designed with initial post with follow up post within scheduled timeframes; they can be instructor-student or student-student responses; instructors/TFs should regularly post as well to give feedback, keep discussion focused, and to model posting style and content
1-minute paper or “muddiest point” notes Student feedback/questions can be contributed to live shared slides or google docs; added to Chat window; posted to screen-shared PPT or whiteboard through annotating tool; clarify which tools are anonymous and which identify students Create space (discussion forum or social media channels) for focused feedback; remember to remind students this is not anonymous feedback
Question and answer Allow time for students to respond; consider writing time before answering question; see also notes for large group discussion Use quizzes or targeted discussion forums with delayed posting times
Clickers or polling for quick feedback Students can respond to simple polling questions (this Zoom post gives examples). Answers may be displayed as students respond or delayed; Blackboard surveys can also be used Use Blackboard surveys for anonymous feedback on specific questions
Student presentations Students may share slides through screen-share or provide simple video/audio presentation Student can post slides with voice-over or simple video/audio presentations to Blackboard
Peer review Students can work in breakout rooms to share drafts and give feedback; or they can complete review outside of class and then use breakout rooms to provide feedback; or they can work through google docs to comment, without live feedback Peer feedback can be organized through multiple means, including google docs; Blackboard groups; Slack; or Padlet
Quick check-ins Students can use the emoticons for quick feedback on simple questions about pace of class or comprehension of activities. This is not anonymous. Blackboard surveys can give anonymous feedback; social media channels can provide informal feedback through icons and comments


We created this guide with significant inspiration from the synchronous activities table in Mcdaniels, M., Pfund, C., & Barnicle, K. (2016). Creating Dynamic Learning Communities in Synchronous Online Courses: One Approach from the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL)Online Learning, 20(1), 110-129.

Additional reading

Brame, C. J. (2015). Effective educational videos. Retrieved March 31 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/effective-educational-videos/.

UPDATED: April 3, 2020