Access Digital and Distributed Learning

Transitioning to more online teaching

Posted on: 17 Mar 2020 | Views: 588

Further to the recent update published at we are all working hard to move more learning, teaching and assessment online.

We, in the Office for Digital Learning, have been preparing and planning how our service needs to adjust to better support you during this transition phase. As a team we have been producing and revisiting lots of our own material, digesting best practice guidance, interacting with our professional communities and trying to arrange our thoughts into actionable things that can help you.

We want to communicate, share useful links and publish to some of our platforms but we also are aware that clear communication is helpful at this time, so we are trying to connect our communications to central communication plans to avoid duplication and conflicting information.

We are aware that during a transition phase there are a lot of assumptions and conceptual misunderstandings about what moving teaching online might be. Whilst as a team we have differing opinions of how much risk we should be bringing into our new delivery models we have a collective agreement that enhanced asynchronous material is our preferred starting point rather than raising expectations for synchronous live sessions.

Online student learning at a laptop

Access Advice and Guidance

Much of what we are working on will be published online over the next few days and we will be using an internal Sharepoint site to share information. It’s not quite ready but you will find material appearing in the coming days and we will let you when it is ready:

Whilst we will be linking to other resources from the above site, you may find other links useful in the short term.

We are also working on a series of webinars to support staff through this transition and we will be running these on a rolling basis over the coming days. These will be recorded for those who are unable to attend.We will also be running online one-to-one drop in clinics to help you with specific issues and these will all be advertised on our Sharepoint website and by all staff email and Blackboard announcements.

Asynchronous (Own Time) and Synchronous (Real Time) Teaching Online

Asynchronous and synchronous are words we use a lot and it might be helpful to translate these in to more easily understood language:

  • Asynchronous could be described as ‘in your own time’ – this is helpful in a transition to online when it is hard, for lot of reasons, to get students and staff together at set times.
  • Synchronous is live teaching often using audio and video technologies.

When students hear that ‘lectures are moving online’ often they may often be thinking of live sessions and we feel it is helpful to manage expectations during this time. The choice of communication tool you use now may cause a lot of work as teaching moves online.

Communicating with Students Online

Email will quickly become unsustainable, so we do recommend the simple Blackboard communication tools that are integrated with the Blackboard App.

  • Announcements can be used to send a message to everyone in a module and the message will go to students’ Blackboard Apps but will also be available online as an alert the next time a student logs in to Blackboard. The announcements are stored online and there is a chronological list available to all users.
  • Messages Tool – a Blackboard tool to send messages to students or staff. All messages are stored in the Blackboard module in an online folder. Threaded communications are stored online and are self-contained in Blackboard.
  • Mail Tool – The mail tool in Blackboard is a tool that acts very much like Email. You compose a message in Blackboard, and it is sent to the students email account. This is not a great tool during a transition to online as replies will come to your personal email account and responses will become time consuming.
  • Discussion Board – available in all Blackboard modules allowing threaded public conversations. When this tool is well supported this can be really helpful for generating and sustaining interaction in an online course.

A good strategic communication plan might be to:

Many staff have already communicated with students and there have been many great examples of module communication that have informed this example template that may be useful:

Dear Students

Further to the recent communications which are published at you may already be aware that all face-to- face classes will be cancelled from Wednesday the 18th March until the end of the teaching period for this semester on Friday the 1st of May. All remaining material on the [module name] module will be delivered online.

This will be a new experience for us all and I will be uploading material to support you in the Blackboard area. The direct URL for Blackboard is The content you can expect might be Powerpoint files, some additional online reading from the library and I will be providing small snippets of video which we will collectively discuss using an online discussion board. I’d like to do some live sessions when we are all comfortable with the format but these are likely to be for seminars and small group activity. All core teaching material will be available without the need for live sessions. What we do might change as we learn some more together about what works for you best.

We will use Blackboard announcements to communicate generally and I have also added a Messages tool which will allow us to keep in contact through Blackboard. It’s probably best that we communicate through this tool rather than email but we will keep this under review. If you have a smart phone you can download the Blackboard App at but this is not necessary. If you have any problems accessing adequate technology at home to connect to Blackboard please let me know.

This week you find some additional material under the Week 9 folder and I have also added a thread in the discussion board for Week 9. Please review the material and respond to my post in the discussion board.

I have also created a general thread in the discussion board where you can ask questions of me and your classmates. I’d encourage you to support one another online through these discussion boards. If you have a suggestion for anything that might help you, please add a post to the General discussion board and we can decide as a group if we should try it out.

Finally, I know this is a stressful experience for many of you and you will have concerns about this new way of delivering your course. I am here to support you through the process and I encourage you to regularly check in to your Blackboard module area so we can keep in contact during this transition phase.

Best Wishes,


Additional links:

Some of the team have recently blogged on some emerging issues at:

This article, by Kay Hack, is a thoughtful summary of moving more teaching online:

Further Support

We will be available to support you through this transition phase and look forward to working with many of you in the coming weeks.

Our contact details are available at

We are also available through the general address.

We are busier than usual at the moment and will do our best to respond as soon as possible.