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Encourage interaction, discussion and collaboration

How can I create authentic tasks that get students interacting with each other and/or others in order to achieve the learning outcomes of the course?

This section will introduce you to some of the tools and support available to enable you to:

  • Design engaging online discussion opportunities

  • Use social networks to create communities for problem solving, sharing experience and resources

  • Use blogs for personal narratives and reflective activities

  • Use collaborative writing spaces for paired, group and team sharing

Karen Day, Adam Blake and students talk about social networks.

Quick tips and terms re discussion, interaction, collaboration   [view/annotate inline]



Using online discussion in an interprofessional learning course

Clinical Education 706: Interprofessional Learning in the Health Professions is a distance course run by the Centre for Medical and Health Science Education. Rain Lamdin originally approached the LTU for ideas on how to more fully exploit the capabilities of technology in a course that only offered face-to-face teaching time in the form of a two-day workshop, which the students were not obliged to attend.  Dr. Lamdin was anxious that with the current assessment structure, students could completely avoid interaction with their fellow colleagues on the course as it was assessed solely via essays.  She decided that this was a less than desirable outcome (particularly on an interprofessional learning course!) and the team decided that the best way to proceed was to carefully design an assessment using the discussion boards in Cecil.  Previously there had been online discussion but it was either not assessed (and hardly used) or the assessment didn't give the students a clear idea of what was expected of them.

The team decided to send a clear message to students that participation was important so the five discussions were weighted at a hefty 30% of their overall mark.  Additionally, the team designed a three-pronged assessment rubric clearly stating what was expected and how marks would be allocated.

Collaborative group writing - theatrical scripts to check understanding of therapeutic reasoning

Nursing 785: Pharmacotherapeutics for Nurse Prescribing is a 30 point paper  that introduces nurses to pharmaco-therapeutic principles and the process of therapeutic reasoning as preparation to becoming nurse prescribers. The course is challenging and co-ordinator Gigi Lim has worked with the LTU to use several technologies to ensure students are fully engaged with and understanding the key concepts as they are presented through the course.  

Gigi was particularly interested to see that nurses could articulate their understanding of therapeutic reasoning and could elicit the right information from patients and colleagues from different disciplines. So one of the assignments in the course is a group task where students are asked to consider multiple roles in a scenario and collaboratively write a mock theatrical script/dialogue for an episode in ‘Shortland Street’.

In 2014 and 2015 Gigi used the Student Pages option in Coursebuilder which enabled her to place students into groups and give each group editable access to their own pages on the course website where they could collaboratively develop and present their final scripts. They were then able to also self assess their contribution on the same pages and Gigi was able to provide feedback regarding their writing as a group - but also see their individual contributions.

In 2016 Gigi may well get her students to use Google Docs for this task as Google Docs is the collaborative writing tool embedded in Canvas. 

Online Discussion

How can I get my students discussing and debating online?

Students need to be motivated to discuss and debate. This means they have to be interested in the learning, connected with one another and connected with the teacher. There are a range of strategies to achieve these aims:

  • As a teacher, be present in online discussion forums and active in debates.
  • Choose authentic and relevant topics for debate.
  • Make sure that students clearly understand how the discussion relates to the learning outcomes.
  • Set tasks that require collaboration.
  • Link discussion and collaboration to assessment.

Karen Day and one of her students talk about assessing online discussion:

What tools are available to me?

There are a number of online discussion tools 'out there' but the University's  Learning Management System, Canvas provides an integrated system for class discussions, allowing both instructors and students to start and contribute to as many discussion topics as desired. Discussions can also be created as an assignment for grading purposes (and seamlessly integrated with the Canvas Gradebook), or simply serve as a forum for topical and current events. Discussions can also be created within student groups. See this page in the Canvas Guides for more details. 

Michelle Honey from the School of Nursing talks about how she used the discussion space in Cecil to enable her students to work through assessment issues:

Michelle Honey, School of Nursing.

How do I get started?

To get started you'll need to log into Canvas, select a course that you are teaching and then select the 'Discussion' feature from the left hand navigation menu.

What support is available to me?

What support is available to me?

For FMHS staff our direct contact for Canvas support is Sophie An

But Canvas offers its own online guides which are generally the best place to start: 

Canvas Guides – search the 'official' Canvas guides for any information you need.

Canvas Community – ask the global community of Canvas users a question. 

For information about the implementation of Canvas at the University see - Canvas at the University of Auckland

There is also 24-hour support for Canvas

Online live chat – select ‘Chat with Canvas Support’ from the Help menu in Canvas

Canvas Support Hotline – call 0800 001469 from a landline or mobile to speak with a Canvas Support representative


What is a blog?

Short for 'weblog', a blog can most easily be described as a web-based diary or personal journal. Blogs began as personal diaries but they are increasingly being used in education, particularly to enable students to post reflections on learning, personal opinions, or keep a log of learning activity.

Blog posting generally invites a diary-style of writing or more personal reflecting or opining on a situation, scenario or issue. Posts are usually archived by date. They are designed to be interactive, allowing others to post comments about the blog entries. Most blogs allow for easy upload of images, video and sound files. and most allow for postings from a mobile device so contributions can be made  'anywhere anytime'. 

This clip Blogs in Plain English provides a clear explanation of blogs:

How might I use blogs?

Blogs are useful if you are wanting to - or if you want your students to:

  • Share thoughts, ideas, opinions, images, video, links to other online resources;
  • Reflect upon their learning / comment on others' reflections;
  • Develop and share an online knowledge base throughout a course; and
  • Develop ideas for the purpose of receiving formative feedback.

Blogs can be used by individuals or groups as an easy way of 'putting ideas out there' and receiving feedback. They are easy to set up and students are generally familiar with them.

How do I start blogging or using blogs?

There are many third party blog services available on the web. Blogger - owned by Google - has been around since 1999 and is a reliable blogging service. WordPress is another well known blogging service and can be found at

Canvas does not include a dedicated blog tool of its own. However you can set up Canvas Assignments to accept blog postings by setting the 'Submission type' to Online then choosing the Website URL option for submission.  Students would need to be instructed to make their blog posts in the third party tool but at the time of submission they can submit the blog's URL to Canvas for marking. 

Collaborative Writing

There is a myriad of collaborative writing tools available for teachers and learners. This section will briefly introduce you to what is available and supported by the University.

How might I use collaborative writing?

  • Incorporating a collaborative writing task in assessment that is clearly aligned with learning outcomes provides and authentic opportunity to learn an important skill for academic and workplace settings that students will need while they are studying and into the future.
  • It is a good way to discover and work through the challenges of team and small group work.
  • It provides a good opportunity for self and peer assessment.
  • Collaborative writing spaces can be great for brainstorming and formulating ideas with formative feedback provided by the lecturer and/or peers.
  • They easily allow for inclusion of media including video and images for group discussion and feedback.
  • Some collaborative writing tools enable the tracking of  participation and contribution.

What tools are available to me?

Google apps

Google Drive offers a comprehensive suite of collaborative, online tools: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and forms. Google Docs enables a document to be shared between students via their email addresses. They are able to view what each group member is contributing as they each add to the document.

The University has a contract with Google for providing Google apps  several of which are excellent collaborative tools (Google Docs being most commonly used). To leverage these apps it is important for you to understand: 

  1. student email accounts are infact Google accounts
  2. all staff also have Google accounts via their email accounts (which all staff have by default)

The apps to which you have access for use in your teaching are listed here:


There are three ways to enable collaborative writing in Canvas

  1. The ‘Collaboration’ tool allows you to embed Google Docs in assignments. See details here 
  2. Canvas ‘Pages’ are actually wiki pages so you can change the edit settings on a page to "Teacher and Students" or "Anyone", and turn that page into a collaborative document for a class or group. See details here.  If you want all students to be able to see and interact with the wiki you select "Anyone can edit this page". This will also enable other participants such as guest speakers to interact with the wiki.
  3. Canvas ‘Groups’ enables you set up groups with their own private wikis that can only be viewed and edited by selected group members. See details here


If you add your students’ UPIs to the course preferences of a Coursebuilder website students can have editable access to selected pages. They can be organized into groups to work privately on  pages together or individually and if desired these can be opened for viewing by all class members at a chosen date. Students need to be provided with instructions on how to use the CB editing tools (The LTU can assist there).

See this Coursebuilder support page for details.


You may still choose to use other wikis for collaborative writing, the major advantage being the ability to track individual contributions by student name in the ‘History’ pages of the wiki.

For those of you new to the concept of using wikis they are similar to a blog in structure and logic, but a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete or modify content that has been placed on the wiki page, including the work of previous authors. In contrast, a blog, typically authored by an individual, does not allow visitors to change the original posted material, only add comments to the original content. 

Wikis that have been used by several staff are:

Both of these wikis are very easy to use and provide built-in instructions for set-up and use. Because they are external tools students will have to set up accounts and you may have to manually add students to pages or sites. (These are third party tools that are not directly supported by the University but LTU staff are able to discuss the potential for using them should other tools prove unsatisfactory.)

Fiona Kelly from the School of Pharmacy talks about her experience with using wikis.

What support is available to me? 

The LTU is available to discuss and support the ways in which any of these tools can be used effectively in your teaching.  Get in touch with us to arrange a meeting with one of our learning designers.

For specific help with Canvas get in touch with the FMHS Canvas support person: Sophie An

Social networks

Web 2.0 applications such as wikis, blogs, tagging, podcasting and the myriad of social networks can be leveraged in teaching and learning to enable communication, sharing and exchange of ideas and community building.

What is social networking?

The act of establishing online many-to-many human connections for the purposes of sharing information with the network or subsets thereof. Although one-to-one connections are possible in social network sites, the preponderance of activity engages a broader range of participants in any given network. (From Gartner:

How can I use social networking with my students?

A social network can be used to:

  1. Build an online community so that students can work together any time and anywhere.
  2. Create an informal space  so that students - particularly students studying at a distance - can communicate freely.
  3. Share a variety of course related resources - articles, images, audio files, video files, and web links.
  4. Carry on discussions about teaching and learning.

The Canvas LMS is not technically a social network. Generally discussion forums in a learning management environment are more 'linear' and less conducive to 'networking' so there can be instances when an external social network will better meet student needs. 

What social networking sites can I use?

There are numersous social networking sites out there with Facebook probably being the best known. However, there are major issues with privacy to be considered with Facebook so it is not really 'endorsed' or advised for use in teaching. That said, many students use it to create groups for their learning. 

Your safest option is probably to make use of a social networking site that is run within the University of Auckland such as:

  • ELGG - CLeaR has supported instances of this one example being the Clinical Education course ClinED 711 Elearning in Clinical Education which is offered as part of the Masters in Clinical Education.
  • Yammer (the network) used by many staff now as a social networking environment amonst themselves.
  • But you can also use Yammer with your students using the network which enables your students to login using their Student email address and password. (NOTE: you need to use your - email address to set this up).

What support is available to me?

If you would like to explore the use of these networking environments please get in touch with the Learning Technology Unit to discuss options.

What are online polls?

There are numerous polling options that allow learners to answer questions or to provide instant feedback to you during classes.

How might I use them in my teaching?

They are particularly suited to promote interactivity and are designed to promote student participation in large classes. Students' answers, or votes, are gathered during the lecture, and the software immediately displays the results. This allows you, the lecturer, to instantly assess participation patterns among your students. You can show class results immediately (students' answers can be anonymous) and use this to engage your students in subsequent discussions.

Common question types are multiple choice and true/false although a variety of student response systems offer other varieties of question types such as hot spots and mathematical notation.

A detailed description of the many polling options available to you take a look at the resource below which was created by Sally Eberhard in School of Business: 

Open spreadsheet on polling software

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