Building Engaging Online Learning

Building Engaging Online Learning
This short guide introduces you to some key ideas for you to incorporate into your online learning and teaching. For further useful information and a full range of resources and tutorials, please visit and for video tutorials.
We will focus on 4 main themes to achieve an engaging online environment
  • Contact
  • Content
  • Interaction and reflection
  • and we’ll finish up with a final thought on video
1. Regular Contact

It is important to maintain regular contact with your students and the most effective way to do this is through Course Announcements in LEARN@PolyU (Blackboard). Announcements can be used to:

  • Inform students of new content that you have uploaded to the course – this can be on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Announce what students should be doing in the course during the week – set goals, ideally on a weekly basis, perhaps Monday morning announcements to introduce the week’s activities.
  • Send summary announcements – reflect on what the course has covered during the week and how this leads into the following week’s content. Fridays are a good time to do this.
  • Use announcements to develop student motivation – explain how the week’s tasks are linked together and what the ILOs for each are. Give students a reason to engage with your content and with you.

Announcements are not limited to text; you can attach files, insert images and embed video should you wish. Watch the Course Announcements tutorial video to see how to do this.

We also recommend selecting the option to ‘Send Announcement as Email’, as this means that not only will the announcement appear in the course, all enrolled students to the course will also receive an email copy to their PolyU email account. We also suggest adding a Course Link to the announcement – this means one click of the link takes the students directly to the content that you select, reducing the cognitive load and need for unnecessary online navigation.


Discussion Forums can be a powerful way to promote interaction between students and also to supplement activities, but a simple use is to provide a place for students to ask general questions regarding the course. These questions can cover a range of areas, from technical issues to questions regarding deadlines, resources, or students who are struggling with certain content or areas. We recommend creating a General Discussion Forum where students are comfortable raising these questions – this forum can be anonymous or show students’ names, depending on your preference.


Sending Emails through LEARN@PolyU allows you to target roles, groups, individuals or a whole class. The email will come from your PolyU email address and it is important to note that Blackboard will not keep copies of any emails that you send. Sending emails through Blackboard enables you to target students who may need extra motivation or encouragement, or maybe you want to congratulate them on a response or a piece of work. Although emails are effective, if you are writing an email to the whole class we recommend using the Course Announcement option as highlighted above.

2. Meaningful Content

For your teaching content to have value and be meaningful to students it should be structured and organised in a way which provides a clear route of progression for students to follow. You begin this by Editing the Course Menu (the left-hand side menu). Depending on your preference you can arrange your menu as follows:

Example of a Simple Menu:
Week One
Week Two
Week Three

or alternatively,

Example of a Themed Menu:
Theme A
Subject 1
Subject 2

Theme B
Subject 3
Subject 4

Additionally, if there is a particular page or piece of content that you would like students to arrive at when they access the course in Blackboard, you can change the course entry point – this is particularly useful if you have a page that provides instructions, ILOs or a welcome message from yourself or course team.

Learning Content

Once you have tailored your Course Menu you can begin to create course content. It is important to provide a variety of formats to stimulate students and not make passive content. This can be achieved by using a mix of text-based content, attachments (PDFs, PowerPoints), links to external content (journals, websites), videos (either self-made or on YouTube, etc.) and asynchronous webinars or instructor-led content (PowerPoint supported with audio/video). Similarly, it is important to structure your teaching content into clear sections and digestible chunks so that students can easily follow and access their learning materials. You may to choose to group content into folders or create Learning Modules, which is a self-contained learning unit consisting of multiple pages. For further guidance on creating content please access the following videos:

Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. Providing you can source materials that are accurate, relevant and free to use (remember to check licensing permissions), you may wish to consider using OERs to supplement your existing teaching materials. Always remember to reference and give attribution to content that is not your own work and make it clear to students that these are open resources which you feel are appropriate to the students’ learning experience. The OER portals below are popular repositories, in addition to PolyU’s OER Portal, however there are plenty more online for you to discover:

3. Promoting Interaction

In addition to providing meaningful learning content, it is important to design activities around that content to promote interaction and engagement both between students, and between students and yourself. For example, rather than just adding a video or journal paper and asking students to watch and/or read that content, consider attaching the content at the top of a Discussion Forum (see above) and outline a few points that you would like students to address following the video or when they have read the journal paper. This approach focuses students to gain a deeper understanding of the content and offers a platform for them to display their understanding and reflection with yourself and their peers.

You may also consider attaching quizzes to learning content – these can be formative or summative assessment, and can also simply be an informal activity for students to test their knowledge and understanding of a subject or piece of content. Creating quizzes is a simple yet effective teaching tool. See the closing paragraph below to find out about creating audio-visual content.

4. Capturing Reflection and Feedback

It is important that you give students space to reflect on their learning process and teachers are an integral part of encouraging students to engage in reflection. One way of achieving this within Blackboard is to create a Learning Journal in which students can write as little or as much as they like. This journal can also be private to themselves or shared between student and instructor. It is common for students to use their journals as a ‘scrapbook’ of useful learning content or as a measurement and record of their own personal growth and development in a subject.

Another popular option is to provide students with a Blog space – an area where they can be creative with their content, attaching files, embedding videos and sharing their knowledge with yourself and their peers. For example, you may ask students to post to their Blog once a week and provide instruction on what they should write about – a particular case study, paper or simply a reflection on a particular topic covered during that week. You can make Blogs into informal activities or grade-baring assessments, depending on your preference.

One final thought on synchronous online teaching…

PolyU recommends using uRewind (Panopto) to record and uploading your asynchronous teaching content, which may typically be an instructor talking through a PowerPoint presentation or screen recording. However, there are alternative ways to achieve this, such as recording your audio/video or screen straight into PowerPoint. Some available tutorial videos on YouTube will walk you through how to achieve this:


Previous Newsletters
Quickstart guide
Making teaching videos from home (webinar)
Using uRewind to Support Video Assignments
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