Learning Shorts: Student-to-Student Interactions in Online Environments

Class starts in ten minutes. A Professor unlocks the classroom door and ten out of the thirty students enter the room. The students talk among themselves in small groups as the rest of the class slowly filters in. Two students approach the Professor to ask for clarification on the text they discussed last week. A student enters and immediately walks up to his study group and sets a time for their next meet up. As the minutes wind down to the start of class, interactions are taking place in every corner of the room. Students are interacting with each other, the instructor, and the material. This is common in traditional face-to-face higher education classrooms. As online instructors, how do you create those interactions in digital formats? Specifically, how can you create student interactions in Blackboard without the presence of students in physical proximity to one another? One way is through discussion forums within Blackboard.

Image of discussion chat boxes

Studies have shown that online learning outcomes are better when interactions are built into the course and that students benefit from learning environments where peers are providing information pertaining to their lessons. By providing opportunities via discussion forums within the Learning Management System (LMS, such as Blackboard), instructors are providing an extended avenue of learning. Instructors are tasked with constructing these areas for discussion in the online environment. Creating meetup discussion boards for general questions, which are left open all semester gives students a space to share questions, thoughts and arrange for study groups and projects. Building group discussion forums for projects is another way to boost communication amongst your students. Providing prompts and questions about course material and topics generates classroom discussion in digital formats. Encouraging communication through the Messages function in Blackboard provides students with a roster of students in their class and a way to reach out to them without the exchange of personal information, such as email or phone numbers. Providing the use of Blackboard Collaborate sessions allows students to not only hear one another, but see each other in real time for those end of semester projects.

As the instructor, clearly stating all information as to where students should go to reach one another within the course overview and syllabus is one way to get the ball rolling on those student-to-student interactions. Modeling the use of Forums and Collaborate shows learners that the technology is not beyond your reach or theirs. For more information, REGISTER and attend our upcoming training, Learn How to Design Engaging Discussions and Content.

For additional training and faculty development opportunities check out the STaR Training & Events Calendar.


Rovai, A. and Barnum, K. (2003). On-Line Course Effectiveness: An Analysis of Student Interactions and Perceptions of Learning. [online] Ijede.ca. Retrieved 11/7/2018. http://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/121

Kupczynski, L., Mundy, M. A., Goswami, J., & Meling, V. (2012, July). Cooperative Learning in Distance Learning : A Mixed Methods Study. Retrieved 11/7/2018.


Higley, M. (2018, January 15). Reasons Why Collaborative Online Learning Activities Are Effective – eLearning Industry. Retrieved 11/7/2018


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