Best practices in Creating & Facilitating Learning Activities

The following best practice principles can guide instructor strategies for developing and facilitating learning activities in an online course.

Click each title to learn more about them.

Apply to your course: Resources & Tools 

There are several activities and technologies available to engage students in the learning process – individually or collaboratively, synchronously or asynchronously. As you may notice, several of these activities are similar to formative assessment techniques, as they both have goals of helping students interact with the materials, each other and the instructor. They also can provide the instructor with important information about students’ current understanding of course concepts.

Learning Activity

Description/ Purpose

UMass-supported Tools

Survey/ Polls

An informal single/multiple-choice activity that can be used to gather information from students about their understanding of or questions about course topics 

Zoom polls, iclicker, Google Form

Brainstorming/ Mind-mapping

Individual, small group or whole class brainstorming or mind/concept- mapping can help activate prior knowledge, draw connections among course concepts, think creatively and plan for projects, etc.  

Canvas Discussions

VoiceThread/VT Doodle Board

Reflection Students evaluate their own work and progress using guided questions, the assignment rubric, etc.  Journals/ Canvas Discussions
Guided Discussions (audio/ video/ written)

Instructors provide effective, clear, high-order thinking questions to begin a class discussion topic. They moderate and provide constructive feedback throughout. 

Canvas Discussions (whole class or small group)

VoiceThread, Zoom

Reading/ Watching Guided Discussions Students are provided with structured questions to answer as they read or watch something, individually or collaboratively.  

For small group, interactive reading/watching: 

Google Drive, Perusall

Problem Sets Students are given several exercises or ‘problems’ based on material already covered by the instructor. They work to solve the problems individually or collaboratively

Group discussion boards/forums

Google Drive tools

Case Study Students examine a real-life example of a course/field-related topic. They make comments, predictions, conclusions, and/or further questions.

Google Docs

Group Blog area

Structured Debates Students are assigned or choose a side of a controversial course topic, a fixed time to present their position, and speaking order in the debate. Debate can be done synchronously or asynchronously.  

Zoom, VoiceThread

Discussion Boards

Peer Review

Students evaluate each other’s work; expectation guidelines and rubrics are useful in this process. 

Peer review feature in Canvas Assignments or Discussions

Google Docs for peer editing

Students as Teachers Students tasked with teaching the class about some aspect of the course, using a teaching ‘platform’ or format that they choose; they have to ensure their fellow students understand the material 

Echo360, VoiceThread

Zoom/polls, iclicker


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bergquist, E., & Holbeck, R. (2014). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Conceptual Model for CATs in the Online Classroom. Journal of Instructional Research, 3, 3-7.

Brown University: Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. Designing Grading Rubrics.

Brown University: Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. Peer Assessment in Online Courses.

Douglas, T. A., Mather, C. A., Earwaker, L. A., James, A. J., & Murray, S. L. (2020). Supporting digital engage a Guide for effective development and facilitation of online discussion boards. Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching, 3(1), 1-10.

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C. (2014). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspectiveAssessment & evaluation in higher education39(1), 102-122.

The K. Patricia Cross Academy. Techniques Video Library.

TeacherStream LLC. (2010). Mastering online discussion board facilitation.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

How to cite this page:

UMass Amherst IDEAS Team. (2024, April). Provide effective feedback on students' learning process.