Online/blended teaching

Why do you need to think about your online teaching practices?

Online and blended courses not only change how content is delivered, they also redefine traditional educational roles and provide different opportunities for learning. The significance for teaching equity groups, such as low socioeconomic status (LSES) students, is evidenced in recent research findings that emphasise:

‘… the role of technology in facilitating the success of students from LSES backgrounds in Australian higher education.  It shows that within the theme of providing flexibility, variety and choice for students from LSES backgrounds who are often time poor, using a range of resources and media, facilitating interactive and connected learning, enabling personalised learning and assuring high academic standards are important contributors to student success’.

Marica Devlin and Jade McKay (2016, p. 101)

Build inclusive online learning graphic

Key tips to building inclusive online learning

Click on the image for a larger view. An alternative format may be downloaded here: Build inclusive online learning (DOCX 13KB)

For more detailed information see below: How do you make the online learning experience inclusive

The following sections provide some examples from Deakin academics of what is possible in the virtual learning environment and key tips to keep in mind when designing and teaching your online students. We highly recommend you also read Cathy Stone’s (2016) National guidelines: opportunity for online learning (PDF 1.11MB), which includes practical suggestions on how to implement these guidelines in your teaching practice.

How do you make the online learning experience inclusive?

Teaching online requires a pedagogical shift from being content driven to learner driven. Extra time commitment, technological support, and professional development in online technologies may be needed.

Based on extensive Australian and UK research, Cathy Stone (2016) notes that teacher presence is vital to building an inclusive online learner community that encourages students to feel a sense of acknowledgement, belonging, and connectedness.

Consider these practical suggestions:

  • Welcome students and tell them something about yourself.
  • Elucidate the 'big picture' with regard to how weekly content relates to the learning outcomes of the unit, their course overall and graduate opportunities and aspirations.
  • Establish clear code of conduct protocols, expectations and netiquette to foster a safe, supportive and welcoming online environment.
  • Explain e-learning technologies using multiple formats (text, audio-visual, diagrams). In particular, point out where online discussions are located, and how to access recorded lectures. Direct students to guides for CloudDeakin, Skype, and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra as well as IT Help Desk resources and contact details.
  • Demonstrate e-learning technologies by spending time in the first teaching sessions by showing students how to use them.
  • Design clear content structure so that your online learning environment is easy and intuitive to navigate and find instructions, important information, unit content and resources without difficulty.
  • Provide digital literacy support through offering options to gain or improve digital literacy skills, such as directing students to the library's digital literacy resources.
  • Give clear instructions, expectations, and deadlines for online participation, activities, assignments and assigned reading.
  • Communicate regularly and offer various avenues for students to contact you for support.
  • Encourage online engagement in discussion boards and activities that foster communication and collaboration; acknowledge students' contributions.
  • Present content in accessible and usable multiple formats e.g. in a combination of text, audio, video, images, diagrams to further encourage online engagement. Refer to Create Accessible Content for guidelines. BUT don't overdo technology with all the 'bells and whistles'; keep it simple so that the key principle in your teaching practice and delivery is accessibility and usability.
  • Summarise discussion threads to highlight key themes, arguments and issues.
  • Establish clear code of conduct protocols, expectations and netiquette to foster a safe, supportive and welcoming online environment.
  • Give realistic deadlines; some activities take longer to complete online due to asynchronous participation. Allow students to move at their own pace within the parameters of important deadlines.
  • Scaffold weekly topics and activities through providing overviews; see also Design-step-by-step learning.
  • Make examples and assignments relevant to a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.
  • Address a wide range of language skills (e.g. spell acronyms, avoid or define jargon, and avoid colloquialisms). Refer to Teaching diverse learners.
  • Provide feedback on progress that is regular, timely and constructive.
  • Provide a range of accessible communication platforms, synchronous and asynchronous, for virtual meetings, online seminars and interactions that are accessible to individuals with a variety of abilities; for example phone, Skype, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, chat, email.
  • Direct to student support services: provide information and direct students to appropriate support services
  • Ask for student feedback: what works and what doesn't.

(Adapted from: DO-IT 2017 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0); Duncan 2016; Everson 2009; Stone 2016)

Online/blended activity at Deakin

Dr Petra Brown, Unit Chair, Introduction to University Studies (AIX160)

AIX160 uses a blended-learning curriculum to create a seamless learning environment between located and online learning. In T1 2017, we trialed a new information evaluation activity, using the Perspectives platform, pioneered by Library. The interface of this activity enables located students to make individual contributions in real time. Depending on the activity, students provide either an individual Tweet length response, or an 80–100 word post developed working in small groups. Both on and off-campus students have access to this activity platform. In our inaugural trimester using this platform, we found that the ability to interact both in class and online in real time created a vibrant and engaging learning environment for the located students. The smaller online only cohort had access to the on-campus contributions, and were able to add their own responses. While the take-up of the activity remained small amongst online only students, better instruction, embedding of activity in the online study guide, and explicit links to assessment is expected to increase the proportion of Cloud campus students over the T3 trimester.

Evaluation information activity

In this activity, students practice applying the CRAAP evaluation technique to a range of resources that they might encounter in their academic research.

This activity asks students to look at four forms of communication by four different academics, which they will later research for their major assignments. Each represents a publishing platform by which academics can share their research: a webpage within an organisation; a peer-reviewed journal article; a report to a governing body; and a media article. For each of the publications, students apply the following steps, working in pairs or as a small group.

  1. Apply the CRAAP technique to evaluate the resources
  2. Based on your evaluation, would you use this resource in an assignment? Why or why not?
  3. Compose an individual Tweet length response answering the questions above.

This image is a screenshot of the introduction to the activity. It is embedded in the CloudDeakin unit site. Instructions and context material are provided within the activity.

Screen shot of Perspectives Introduction
An alternative format may be downloaded here: Perspectives Introduction Screen Shot (DOCX 12KB)

Students work in pairs or small groups, and are assigned 1 of 4 academics for the purposes of this exercise. This example shows Tim Flannery. Students then access some biographical information about their particular academic, where each academic also has an assigned feed, with a short fictional comment by the academic relating to their work, as shown in the image below.

Students evaluate the associated resource, in this case a website, and apply the CRAAP technique to evaluate the resource (using a handout provided), providing a Tweet-length response explaining why they would, or would not, use the resource in a university assignment. The responses are displayed in real time on the screen at the front of the seminar. At the end of the seminar, students are encouraged to further explain their reasoning in coming to a decision about the resource, as the whole class reflects on what has been learned.

Tim Flannery Twitter feed
An alternative format may be downloaded here: Tim Flannery Twitter (DOCX 12KB)

Students evaluate the associated resource, in this case a website, and apply the CRAAP technique to evaluate the resource (using a handout provided), providing a Tweet-length response explaining why they would, or would not, use the resource in a university assignment. The responses are displayed in real time on the screen at the front of the seminar. At the end of the seminar, students are encouraged to further explain their reasoning in coming to a decision about the resource, as the whole class reflects on what has been learned.

Student Twitter replies
An alternative format may be downloaded here: Students' Twitter Replies (DOCX 12KB)

More examples of online/blended teaching from Deakin academics

Using 'Live Chat' to talk to students online

Dr Jaclyn (Jac) Broadbent (Faculty of Health) is currently piloting a new ‘Live Chat’ tool, like the pop up widget that is often used for online shopping.

‘The widget sits on the unit CloudDeakin page, and students can chat with a teacher privately and in real time… Students have loved it. I am implementing it in the large unit described above, but it is also being implemented in three other first year psychology units, a third-year psychology unit, a first-year medicine unit and a first-year engineering unit.’

Jac Broadbent, extract from Deakin Network, April 2017


Engaging students using Twitter as a teaching tool

In this first video, Dr. Adam Brown, School of Communication and Creative Arts, discusses a blended teaching approach that combines located learning with social media as a teaching tool to engage and motivate student learning and interaction. Please refer to Adam’s teaching Twitter account as you watch this presentation.


A video transcript may be downloaded here: Engaging students using Twitter as a teaching tool (DOCX 19KB)


Blended learning and art education

In this second video, Jenny Grenfell, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, discusses her blended learning approach that combines located, Cloud-based and virtual world learning environments.


View the Powerpoint presentation that accompanies this talk (PDF 3MB)
A video transcript may be downloaded here: Blended learning and art education (DOCX 18KB)

How do you ensure teaching technologies are inclusive?

Web pages, videos, images and text

Here is a quick overview of key tips from DO-IT (2017) (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). For a more detailed discussion on how to produce accessible materials see the section on this site Create Accessible Content.


Please note there are copyright restrictions on creating captions and transcripts for audio visual material that has not been created by Deakin staff. If you need to create captions or transcripts for material created outside the university, please seek advice from the Copyright Office.

Recorded lectures

  • Reference the PowerPoint slide number being discussed; note date and time

Online discussion forums

  • If possible, use a webcam when talking to students so they can then put a name to a face and be more interested in participating in discussions.
  • It is easier to hide in cyberspace so make active efforts to include all students in discussions and online sessions; students in regional and remote areas can feel left out if not addressed directly.
  • Ask students if they are experiencing any technological or other difficulties.
  • See more online teaching tips on this site at Teaching large groups.
  • For assistance with these technologies see the following guides for DTeach; CloudDeakin, Skype, and
  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra as well as IT Help Desk resources and contact details.

Check online content for accessibility and usability

To provide an inclusive learning experience for all students, teachers must be trained not only to use the technology but also to shift the ways in which they organise and deliver material to ensure accessibility (technical design) and usability (user interface design). This requires understanding, identifying, and addressing potential barriers to student learning and engagement that may occur in the virtual environment.

What are the barriers in the online/blended environment?

With higher education teaching moving into the cloud, the distinctions between online and on-campus are blurring. Almost all students rely on online technologies. 

Synchronous versus asynchronous interactions

Interactions that occur in the digital environment can be synchronous and/or asynchronous. There are benefits and limitations for both modes, therefore using a combination is recommended for inclusive teaching practice (Giesbers et al. 2013; Stone 2016).

Synchronous interactions occur in real time via digital tools such as Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, webcam, Live Chat etc.  In other words participants are logged in to particular platforms at the same time to communicate with each other.

Pros and cons include:

  • strengthens class/group relations, collaboration and engagement (Giesbers et al. 2013)
  • provides immediate interaction, clarification and feedback (Giesbers et al. 2013)
  • can be problematic scheduling across different time zones (particularly northern and southern hemispheres) and may exclude some students (Lieblein 2000)
  • excludes students with limited or no internet access or low bandwidth
  • students often choose online modes of enrolment to allow for other commitments and therefore may not be available at set times
  • reliability of technology can be unpredictable at times.

Asynchronous interactions occur at the discretion of the individual at any time or location.  These are predominantly text-based communications, for example email threads, online discussion forums via posts, and text messaging, which is available on a range of platforms including mobile phones and social media applications. Pros and cons include:

  • equitable contribution, that is everyone is able to participate without one person dominating (Ho & Swan 2007)
  • more time to reflect and consider the content of messages (Ho & Swan 2007)
  • open to misinterpretation (Giesbers et al. 2013)
  • may disengage students who lack sufficient motivation to contribute (Giesbers et al. 2013).

Differing abilities and capacities

It is estimated that about 20% of the population has some kind of disability. The major categories of disability require adaptations in web content design. Such adaptations are helpful to most people, not just those with disabilities. Illustrations, well-organised content, and clear navigation benefit all users. Similarly, while captions are necessary for those with hearing impairment, these can help others, for example, when viewing a video without audio.

As defined by ©WebAIM (2016), the major categories of disability are:

Visual: Blindness, low vision, colour blindness


Hearing: Deafness and hard-of-hearing


Motor: Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control

brain Cognitive: Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information

But remember, 'disability' is not only a permanent 'condition' that limits or constrains a person's ability to undertake a particular action or activity. It can affect anyone at different times or in different contexts. For example, an injured limb, a headache, mental health issues, working in a noisy, crowded, or poorly lit environment, or encountering unfamiliar language or vocabulary, can variously impair mobility, hearing, sight or cognition. When designing your digital content then, 'solve for one, extend to many' (Microsoft Design 2016).


Digital literacy: students may lack sufficient digital skills, knowledge and competency in using technologies in the online environment.

Bandwidth can cause problems downloading files; for example in rural and remote regions. This will impact equity groups such as LSES, rural/remote, and indigenous students.

Internet access in rural and remote regions, as well as for some LSES and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may be affected by limited or no internet access.

Poor usability and course design may create difficulty for students in navigating, interacting and engaging with the course interface. Students using screen readers and other assistive technologies will be disadvantaged here.

Safety: establishing a safe environment in which staff and students can interact in a civil and respectful manner is vital to successful learning in a virtual community.

Teaching and learning activity

­­­ Activity

Rubric learning activity

  • Choose one of your Cloud learning sites.
  • Do a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) of the learning environment in relation to its potential to support inclusive teaching.
  • You may like to include your students in this activity.
  • What will you or can you change to make the environment more inclusive?
  • Refer to Microsoft Design Inclusive Toolkit (PDF 3.6MB) for some activity suggestions.

Deakin digital literacy teaching guides

An inclusive approach to online teaching aligns with Deakin's Graduate Learning Outcome (DGLO) Digital literacy.  Digital literacy refers to the use of technologies to find, utilise and disseminate information.

Students have the best opportunity to progressively develop and evidence their achievement of digital literacy when the learning and assessment of this outcome is an integral part of units and scaffolded across the course (Deakin Graduate Learning Outcomes (DGLO)).

The following Deakin University guides will assist you in the design and implementation of teaching practices that will develop students' digital literacy skills:


Devlin, M & McKay, J 2016, 'Teaching students using technology: facilitating success for students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds in Australian universities', Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 92 – 106.

DO-IT 2017, 20 tips for teaching an accessible online course, University of Washington, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, retrieved 1 June 2017.

Duncan, H 2016, ‘What adjustments did you make to content/pedagogy when you design and deliver an online course?Research Gate Questions, weblog post 17 March, retrieved 17 November 2016.

Everson, M 2009, 10 Things I've learnt about teaching online, eLearn Magazine, retrieved 13 April 2017.

Giesbers, B, Rienties, B, Tempelaar, D & Gijselaers, W 2014, 'A dynamic analysis of the interplay between asynchronous and synchronous communication in online learning: the impact of motivation', Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 30 – 50.

Ho, C-H & Swan, K 2007, 'Evaluating online conversation in an asynchronous learning environment: an application of Grice's cooperative principle', The Internet and Higher Education, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 3 – 14.

Lieblein, E 2000, 'Critical factors for successful delivery of online programs', The Internet and Higher Education, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 161 – 74.

Microsoft Design 2016, Inclusive: a Microsoft Design toolkit, Microsoft Design, retrieved 10 April 2017.

Stone, C 2016, Opportunity through online learning: improving student access, participation and success in higher education, National Guidelines (PDF 1.1MB), National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University, Perth, retrieved 3 April 2017.

WebAIM 2016, Introduction to Web accessibility, Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University, retrieved 23 June 2016.

Further resources

Blended and online learning curriculum design toolkit
This toolkit from LaTrobe University provides a comprehensive a set of resources for blended/online curriculum design.

Supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in higher education: report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE)
This report focuses on improvements in support for higher education students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The key outcomes and recommendations of the research relate to the provision of holistic disability supports, pedagogical innovations, inclusive design solutions and the potential under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for funding to support students with ASD in higher education.

UDL, technology and materials This short YouTube video explains from a teacher's perspective how to implement a diversity of technology and materials in the classroom using Universal Design for Learning principles.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *