How to guide (groups of) students in online education

At this moment you do not meet your students physically and also students themselves probably do not meet physically. How can you help them with their work, with working in groups and what guidelines can you give to them help them studying?

1.      How are we going to work in the upcoming period?

  • Make a planning (if not yet available) of what the students have to do in the upcoming weeks. Place this on the course site in Canvas. Work together as a module team and inform the students as a team. What material do they have to study, what assignments do they have to make, etc. The easiest way is to make a week planning just as you would do for lectures and other educational activities.
  • Let students know how and when they can ask questions. An online discussion board in your online course is a good way. Students can also help each other and react to each other.  It might be helpful to split the discussion board into questions about the content and more general questions about the course/module. You can also plan (once a week) a consultation hour by audio or video chat.
  • If you want to give students a more personal message, you could consider to make a short video in which you can shortly explain the planning and way of communicating. It is also an opportunity to motivate your students. You can upload the video on Canvas.  
  • Send a message to all the students to alert them to all the points above. Send this preferably from your online course and not from your personal mail, because students can then respond. 

2.      How do I give my students instructions to study and how can I activate them?

From just reading an article or watching a video students do not learn much. Only when they actively work with the content it becomes alive. This is true for every educational situation, but certainly for teaching online! How do you do this? Giving students instructions on how to efficiently study the content and what to do with the content is one of the most important jobs of a teacher.

  • Students most of the times do not study more than one hour  consecutively. Give study instructions and assignments for each ‘study unit’ of an hour.
  • Study instructions help students to focus on studying the material upfront; indicate briefly what the relevance of the material is related to the course goals; what does the student have to focus on; what is less relevant.  
  • After studying the content you can activate the students. How you do that depends on what has to be learned. With factual knowledge an online quiz can be helpful. When it comes to skills then practice is evident. If you choose for an online quiz you can usually insert standard feedback, also when practicing you can give standardized feedback by giving examples and (possible) solutions.

3. How can you support students with self-study?

Give a concrete and specific assignment in addition to the self-study material. An assignment that they can be done independently activates and stimulates students to study the material. For example:

  • Examples of questions which direct the attention of students towards the use of self-study material:
    • What was the most important concept you learned whilst studying the material?
    • Which important questions have not been answered yet?
    • What is the connection between the material you have studied now and theory that has been used earlier on in this course?
    • Which questions come up when studying the material? What is it calling into question?  Which new perspectives does it offer?
  • Ask students to create exam questions for the studied theories. Students can answer each other’s questions and give each other feedback. As a teacher you can give students feedback on the most important topics or the topics that you notice specifically.
  • Students can make a mindmap in which the different concepts or theories that the self study material contains are being connected and interrelated. Also a Cornell scheme, to summarize the material, can be used. See also the TELT website on self study.  

I want to explain my students something

How can I explain my students the material online? Depending on your skills and on how interactively you would like to do this, you can choose from following options (a.o.):

  • Conduct a webinar. A webinar works well if you want students to be able to ask questions directly during or after your explanation. Conducting webinars is possible via the conferencing tool in Canvas. Examples of activities you can organize through this tool are: video-chatting, presenting, sharing a document on the screen en discuss this real time, students can ask questions, and more. Preparation from the lecturers’ side is key here and it is important to inform students about when the webinar will take place. In Canvas you can create an announcement for this purpose.
  • A presentation or screencast. This is a video based on an existing PowerPoint presentation and spoken text. This video you can upload in your Canvas course.
  • A pencast. This is based on the model the teacher explaining something on the whiteboard. It is used for  ‘building up’ a story and to explain and elaborate on examples. You can upload the video in your Canvas course.

Supervising project groups

How do we ensure that students keep studying, while working in project groups? How can we support them to study actively, also when a project group is large or students do not know each other very well?

General tips would be to create for example a discussion board where students can post questions. You as a teacher can answer the students’ questions and stimulate students to answer each other’s questions. These questions and answers can help other students as well. If you encounter interesting discussions and questions you can give compliments and positive feedback to reward and motivate students.

Tips for working in project groups:

  • Make sure to tune in regularly with your project group through Skype meetings (or another tool). Agree on how often you want to meet online. Discuss progress and allocate tasks.
  • Appoint an organizer (for planning), a chair man (who monitors the agenda) and somebody who takes notes and records agreements and decisions. Also a person who monitors progress  in relation to the agenda and planning is needed.
  • Ask your questions in an online environment or tool that has been formerly agreed upon (such as the discussion board). Support students in answering questions as well.

Peer tutoring

In peer tutoring students help and support each other. As a teacher you can organize students in groups or allocate students as buddies to other students. Peer tutoring also enables students to exchange practical questions and to learn from each other. 


This text is partially translated from the websites below: