Possible Online Teaching Strategies

The following is a list of online activities that instructors may use to supplement their courses.  We also encourage you to contact CTSI staff for assistance in implementing any of the following strategies.  For more information and guidance on online activity design see the CTSI Online Learning Instructor Toolkit.

Online interaction may be facilitated using any of the available interactive communication tools in the Portal including the Discussion Board, Wiki and Blog.  These tools are generally used over an extended period of time for asynchronous discussion.   The webinar tool can be used for real-time, synchronous discussion.

  • Structured Discussion: A structured discussion using the Discussion Forum, Wiki or Blog is most effective when there are somewhat formal expectations set for student responsibility in terms of regular contributions.  For example, instructors may ask for three substantive posts a week: one presenting a new idea, one refuting a peer’s idea, and one supporting a peer’s idea.  Students may contribute to topical or weekly-based discussions that tie in with lecture content and readings. Instructors can have prepared questions or topics to guide the conversation and generally facilitate the discussion rather than answer student inquiries directly.
  • Online Jigsaw: Jigsaw activities are characterized by an online “break out” process in which each of the learners within a “home group” specialize in one aspect of a topic of study and then present back to their peers.  Students can also connect and exchange information with members from other groups who are assigned the same aspect so that they become “experts”.  They then return to their “home group” to teach the information to the other members in their group.  The goal is that all home group members master all aspects of the topic of study.  While the Jigsaw is commonly used in face-to-face conversations, it can also be implemented through online discussion.  Jigsaw activities can provide opportunities for instructor, peer or self-assessment using Discussion Forums, Blogs, Wikis or Group tools.  It is important to provide structure for the process, including topics, questions, reporting method, expectations for depth of exploration, time on task, etc.
  • Ask an Expert (or Question Development): As a class or in small groups students develop questions for a guest lecturer.  The activity can be conducted before or after a guest lecture video or webinar, or for a fictitious or historical figure.  A follow-up exercise could have the students researching and answering each other’s questions or students could research and play the role of the expert. This activity can also be a great way to include members of the community who cannot physically come to class, for reason of location or because of an interruption of classes.  The guest can record their presentation and send it to the instructor for distribution, the instructor can then send chosen questions to the guest, and post the responses back to the class. Any of the interactive tools including Discussion Forum, Wiki or Blog may be used for the follow-up activity.
  • Study Guide Development: Using a discussion forum or wiki, students develop and answer questions they would expect to see on an exam.  The instructor can also develop some sample questions to demonstrate the types of questions they are expecting.  To help demonstrate the value of the activity the instructor can choose a handful of questions to use in an assessment.

Online group activities can provide engaging learning experiences in which students learn from their peers. These activities may occur over an extended period of time, such as several days or weeks, and may result in a specific output or report.

Portal UT Manage Group Tool Activities
Instructors may facilitate the assignment of students into teams and provide them with a flexible suite of collaborative tools easily using UT Manage Groups. The tools available to student groups include file sharing, group blog, discussion board, wiki, group journal, task management and email functions. Assignment preparation and submission can be managed using Smart View in the Grade Center. Activities may include:

  • Facilitated study groups
  • Group projects (case studies, problem-based learning, and research activities)
  • Collaborative assignments (problem sets or analysis)
  • Formative peer review or sharing processes

Group Presentation/Moderation
Small groups prepare presentations and supporting materials as they would for a presentation in a face-to-face class but the process is undertaken within a Portal Discussion Forum, Blog, Wiki, or discussions using the Chat tool or in a webinar breakout room over a longer time frame, i.e. a week.  Presenters can also prepare a number of questions for their classmates to help generate discussion.  A number of presentations can be conducted simultaneously in separate forums, blogs or wikis.  Online collaboration space for each group allows the instructor to work with each group to help them cover the correct content and identify appropriate resources.  Students should be provided with topics and guiding questions as well as access to appropriate resources and research materials.


  • Using online communication tools (discussion forums, blogs, journals, etc.) students work independently reviewing or researching topics.  Instructors can interact with these students individually or in groups to help them connect what they are researching with course outcomes.  Students can also ask questions and discuss topics with the instructor and peers using these online communication tools.


  • Using webinar tools, conduct your class at the regularly scheduled time, meeting virtually for presentation of content, review of materials, question and answer, surveys, polls, problem solving, demonstrations, simulations, tutorial or any other instructional activity for which real time (synchronous) participation is required. Webinars may be archived for review by students at a later time.
  • Lecture content may also be captured using the TechSmith relay system.  In this case an archive of the video is captured for viewing by students at a later time.


  • Instructors, TAs or other teaching staff can provide assistance to or virtually meet with students via online communication tools without requiring a face-to-face meeting. Simple tools like email or a discussion forum allow absent students to send communication when they are capable. Synchronous tools in Portal courses such as the chat or webinar tools allow instructors to maintain their office hours. The Blackboard Collaborate webinar tool includes a default room that is titled with the instructor’s name. This “Instructor Room” is accessible from any course that the instructor has been assigned to and can be used to provide virtual office hours across all of their course sections.


The CTSI website offers resources for University of Toronto instructors leading online courses (whether blended or fully online) or looking for ways to enhance the traditional in-class experience. The Online Learning Instructor Toolkit contains information on Online Course Design, Accessibility Guidelines and Alternative Learning Environments. The Teaching Innovations at U of T section on the CTSI site also profiles innovative practices in teaching at the university, both online and in the classroom.

For information and guidance on online course design see the CTSI Online Learning Instructor Toolkit.