Engaging students online: Going beyond BB Collaborate and Zoom

BlackBoard Collaborate and Zoom are both excellent as web conferencing tools to link teachers and students, but educators need to expand their repertoire to include tools outside the web conferencing software to get engagement once the initial novelty wears off.

Here are some suggestions:

Google Forms

This is very versatile as it can be used in so many ways. Here are two:

  • As a recap on a lesson, create a blank short answer format question. Share the link via the chat area then ask a question orally or by writing in the chat area. Delay showing the webpage with the responses until most students have responded. Then all the students can view what the other students answered. Compared to using the chat area, it is in a more compact form, doesn’t prematurely show students what others wrote and does not disappear if there are lots of answers or other comments in the chats area later.
  • To get information about what the students are using to join the webinar: Create a multiple choice quiz with as many options that you think may apply; for example: laptop, desktop, iPad, other tablet, smartphone. Post the link in the chats area and display the webpage for the responses immediately after posting the link. The result will be a dynamically changing graph to entertain the students and encourage all to contribute.

Google Docs

I wanted a class to compare Scoop.it and Pinterest as curation tools. With 16 students the feedback in the chats area would be chaotic and superficial. So I created a Google doc that could be shared by anyone who had the link – no login needed. The students nominated their own area of interest on the whiteboard in BB Collaborate. After that they spent 15 minutes researching their topics on both Pinterest and Scoop.it (note: webinars don’t need to have educators talking all the time), then commented on the merits of the two curation tools in the Google doc. To make sure the students knew where to write, the name of each student was written on a new line. The document expanded as the students wrote, and students could read each other’s comment to compare ideas about the two curation tools. The link could also be sent to students that were absent so that they could also contribute to the document after the webinar.


If you are introducing some new terms you want students to learn, then create a Quizlet. After providing context around the vocabulary items in the lesson, the terms can be revised by displaying the Flashcards mode – students can guess the answers via the audio chat or text chart area. After students are given the link to the Match mode in Quizlet and they report how long it took them to match terms – a fun exercise.

Of course these have their limitations. Students on smartphones would find it harder to navigate to a separate browser tab to carry out the extra tasks.

Unsurprisingly, these tools are also the tools to boost student engagement in classrooms. Expect the greater awareness of eLearning tools to lead to greater uptake of them in the classroom after the effects of the COVID 19 virus wear off.

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