Promoting Peer to Peer Participation

Remote Teaching and Learning does not need to be a self isolating experience for your students. Although we’re all working from home and keeping our distance there’s no reason we can’t work together. In this post we’ll give you few ideas and tools to get students interacting with peer to peer activities and supports.

Peer Support Discussion Forum

Often students’ questions about class get answered in the informal moments before and after class when students run into each other in the hallway or out in the bowl.

“Hey aren’t you in my History class? Do you know understand what we need to do for the second writing assignment?”

But without that physical opportunity for happenstance, you may find one of two things happening:

  1. You’re either fielding a LOT more emails than you’re used to (mostly about things that are in the Syllabus) OR
  2. Students are finding themselves in the dark and NOT asking the question at all, which is far worse.

At the Distance Education Unit we simply create a digital space for happenstance in the Discussion Forums of the Learning Management System. Creating a “Questions Lounge” forum of some sort allows students to have a place to ask those general questions about the course. This serves several functions in the online environment.

  1. It allows those eager and engaged students to jump in and support their peers. There’s always a few students who love this role. Having students support each other in this way means you’ll probably only have to monitor this feed and not answer every post. Just make sure that the answers coming in are correct and otherwise facilitate any questions that need your attention.
  2. By centralizing these responses, you’ll probably answer the question for more students than you think as their peers begin to build a FAQ of sorts that ends up helping more than just one student.
  3. It’s a good review process for your course design. If there are consistent questions about one assignment or aspect of your course perhaps it’s your explanation that needs to be addressed for next term. This forum can help identify aspects of your course that may not be clearly articulated.

Here’s a link to some help on how to set up a discussion forum in Blackboard.


There’s lots of ways to use groups in your remote teaching and learning class. It doesn’t always need to be a formal assignment. Think of all the ways you ask students to interact during class. Many of these opportunities exist online. Here’s a few ways to use Groups:

  1. Simple study groups – especially useful if you have a large class. Breaking students into smaller groups can mean that students can form a tighter group with whom to rely on when major assignments or exams are on the horizon. Building some type of learning activities early on in the term to encourage students to engage with peers is an important to the success of this type of peer group.
  2. Case-study – Giving students a specific case study to work through together can get them supporting each others learning. Have students discuss a case study with guided questions in the group discussion forums and give each group a summary question to formulate a response to. These responses can then be shared with the larger class in the main class discussion forum.
  3. Jigsaw – Jigsaws allow you to break up readings or other large chunks of content and assign them to groups of students. These groups then summarize the content for the rest of the class and synthesize how it relates to objectives and topics in that weeks learning materials. Presented back to the class, every students gets the benefit of the content and also a peer to peer interaction.

    Peer Reviews

Having your peers provide honest feedback on you drafts can be invaluable. You can set up a Peer Review system in your course in a number of different ways. The simplest way would be for students to post their drafts in a Discussion Forum (either the full class tool or within a group) and have their peers provide feedback through the replies on that post. There’s very little setup required for this method making it quick and easy.

Blackboard does have a Peer Review Tool that allows you to set up a more formal process where students can provide feedback similarly to how an instructor would do for a formal assignment.

For instructions on setting this up in Blackboard, follow this Link.

Class Communications at a Distance

Communicating with your students is the number one way to keep them on track and engaged in the topic of your course. But when the physical classroom is not an option how do we keep the lines of communication open between the instructor, the students, and their peers?

Here’s some tips and tools for making sure you’re keeping the communication lines open.

Before the start of class

  • Make sure your University email address is provided in a prominent place of the class syllabus. This will ensure students can message you with questions or concerns.
    • *Note: You can have your University email forwarded to another email address if your primary email is something else.
  • You might also provide a phone number and some “virtual office hours” when it would be appropriate for students to call.
    • *Note: You can have your office line forwarded to a cell phone or home line during campus closures which ensures you’re not sharing personal phone numbers.
  • Speaking of Virtual Office Hours, you may want to schedule a WebEx session each week where you are available for drop-ins and informal Q&A.
  • Create a FAQ in the Blackboard Learn Discussions tool and maintain it throughout the term.
  • Create and schedule Announcements in Blackboard for things like reminders, due dates and other planned events within your class schedule. This will save you time later in the term and ensure you don’t forget to send them.
  • Create a welcome video for the landing page of the course. This ensures that whenever students arrive to class for the first time they’re greeted by their instructor. This can just be a quick webcam hello with some instructions as to how to navigate the menu items or you might want to create a course trailer to really get students excited about being part of the learning community.

First Week of Class

  • Email students through the Email Tool in Blackboard at the start of class. You can welcome them to the class, set up expectations about how long they can expect to wait for a reply to their email questions and generally just say, Hi! This is more about confirming that there is in fact a live instructor facilitating and guiding this experience.
  • Setting up a who’s who chat inside the Discussion Forums can also get students interacting with peers and practicing with some tools before you get too deep. Have students post something interesting about themselves or something of interest to them and get people talking.

Throughout the Term

  • Discussion Forums can be vibrant exciting places to engage with peers and materials in an online class. They can also be a painful and often dreaded experience for students and instructors alike. The trick is to make the discussions purposeful. Follow this link to some resources around how to design interesting and engaging discussion activities.

Also here is a video you might use to show students the importance of online discussions.

  • Synchronous Activities are a great way to communicate with students throughout the year. Case studies, debates, open Q&A’s, guest lecturers and more can all participate together in web conferencing platforms like WebEx. See this link to find more ideas and tools to use for synchronous activities.
  • Announcements are a great way to share current events relevant to the class material, provide wrap-up or summary of discussions or activities, or provide student with other relevant information about job postings or extra curricular opportunities in your field of study. Keeping in contact throughout the term makes students feel more connected to their online learning community.


  • Providing Feedback for assignments and activities is always important in helping students know how their learning journey is going. It’s especially important that you not only provide a number of formative assessment opportunities for students throughout the term, whether it be review questions and answers or self check activities, but also that you provide them with personal feedback on major assignments. Although this can be done as written comments and track changes on a document, consider creating a short video that outlines your comments and recommendations to add a personal touch.

Audio and Video creations

  • Creating Audio and Video content is easier than ever and doing so shows off your personality in a way that asynchronous discussion forums and announcements just can’t match. Panopto makes is simple to record and share video files with your class and even embed quizzes and activities right in the player. Demos, interviews, wrap-up’s and more can all help students better understand the written materials with added context.
  • Students can create videos too. Use Panopto to create a video assignment for students. Design a poster presentation assignment or just have students take the class through a webtour of an online resource. There are lots of ways students can make use of video in class to better communicate with everyone.

In the end, communicating with your students is all about creating a healthy online learning community. Click this link to learn more about how to create a Healthy Virtual Learning Community

Additional Resources:

Developing Effective Online Communication Plans –

Utilizing Social Learning in Online Courses –

Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning –