Providing feedback to students is a critical component in any course and perhaps even more important in an online course where the instructor and students are not in the same physical space. Although written feedback is the primary method used when providing feedback to students, some instructors are turning to the use of audio feedback and finding that it is both easy to do and effective. Research has shown that audio feedback can allow for more nuanced messages to the student. It has also been shown to involve the student more deeply in a class and make them feel that the instructor really cares. One study even found an association between the use of audio feedback and better retention of course content.

There are several online tools that allow you to create and share audio clips easily. One that I’ve used recently is Chirbit. You only need a microphone and you can record clips up to five minutes in length. There is no limit to the number of audio posts that you can share on Chirbit. Once you create an audio clip you can mark it as private and then share the link that is provided with your student. Chirbit has a number of other capabilities for sharing clips that you can explore even further, including the ability to attach transcripts or QR codes directly to audio clips.

Consider choosing one assignment next term that you could experiment with by providing audio feedback to students. Some instructors have reported that giving audio feedback is actually more efficient for them than giving written feedback. It is definitely another way to extend your presence in the online classroom.

What does the latest research say about the most effective approaches to online and blended learning?  Consider adding one or more of these peer-reviewed journals to your summer reading list:

International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning – The current issue of this twice-a-year journal is a special edition on the hot topic of open educational resources.

Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks – Articles in the latest issue delve into mobile learning, e-portfolios, and student engagement.  JALN is published by the Sloan Consortium, whose website has a wealth of resources about online and blended learning.

Journal of Interactive Online Learning – Recent articles cover learning analytics as predictive tools, the challenge of establishing a sense of community in an online course, and a comparative study of student performance in online and face-face chemistry courses.

Journal of Online Learning and Teaching – The current issue of JOLT (the best journal acronym here!) includes such diverse topics as instructor-made videos as a tool to scaffold learning, comparative usefulness of web-based tech tools in online teaching, and student perceptions of online discussions.  JOLT is published by MERLOT, the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, a great collection of peer-reviewed open educational materials that could be useful in your online or classroom teaching.

There are many ways to get engaging discussions started in a discussion board, but my favorite is to have students make something to share with their classmates as discussion starters. The tools students can use to create many types of presentations have become incredibly powerful and easy to use. These tools range from the more traditional presentation tools such as Prezi and Google Presentations (part of Google Drive) to the more creative such as slideshows in Vuvox or Animoto, interactive digital posters such as Pinterest or Padlet, animated cartoons with Go!Animate, or digital multimedia timelines with myHistro. Having students create things to share with classmates leverages the “write” part of the read/write web (also called web 2.0) to turn students into producers of content rather than consumers of content. This also creates a greater sense of student ownership of their own learning, especially when they are free to select the tool with which to create their discussion starter. Best of all, it reduces the likelihood that after half of the class has posted their thoughts in the forum everyone else struggles to come up with something new to say—usually ending up saying exactly the same thing with different paraphrasing. The accessibility of Web 2.0 tools varies. Giving students a choice of tools to use is a recommended approach; instructors seeking to create content for online courses should consult with Ecampus for recommendations about accessible tools.

Here is an example of what a typical set of assignment instructions might say:
Part 1: Create a presentation addressing your assigned topic using Prezi, Google Presentation, or Vuvox.
Part 2: Post a link to your presentation in the discussion board by clicking “Create Thread”. (Due Wednesday of week 1)
Part 3: Read at least 5 classmates’ presentations and give in-depth responses. Respond to classmates’ presentations which have the fewest responses. (Due Friday of week 1)
Part 4: Read the responses you received from your classmates and reply to each one. (Due Saturday of Week 1)


Are you looking for a new way to engage your online students without leaving your Blackboard course site?  Consider using a wiki, blog, or journal!  Wikis allow your students to collaborate on a single document within Blackboard and you are able to track their participation.  This is a great tool for brainstorming, collecting research, or producing a student-created FAQ or glossary.

A blog is meant to be a place where students can post their opinions or climb on a ‘virtual soapbox’ and deliver a message.  There are opportunities for others to comment, but the focus is on the initial posts and what the student had to say.

A journal is usually intended to be used as a private space for reflection.  It is a space that can only be ‘written’ on by the student and the instructor, although you can control whether the rest of the class can read each others’ journals or not.

Sometimes using a different tool for a week or two gives the students a break from the traditional discussion board routine – -and that in itself can improve student engagement in a class.  Instructions for setting up a wiki, blog, or journal are found here.