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Facilitating virtual classrooms

Author: Jordan Napier, School of Medicine


Prepare for facilitating a virtual classroom, ensuring active participation and a supportive and enjoyable experience for learners.


In the same way that we might plan some specific learning activities within a face-to-face tutorial with learners, we should come prepared to a virtual classrooms with an idea of how we will promote and encourage active learning.


  • Clear, concise action-based learning outcomes
  • Access as a moderator to a virtual classroom (Blackboard Collaborate Ultra)
  • A toolkit of strategies to encourage active participation Visual aids (such as PowerPoint slides, or an alternative)
  • Access to a webcam & microphone


Define your intended learning outcomes. Plan a range of learning activities that will facilitate these outcomes being met. Plan rough timings for your session (less is more, try not to pack too much in) Ensure you have access as a moderator to a virtual classroom (Blackboard Collaborate Ultra) Ensure you have communicated with participants what they are expected to have read/watched/revised prior to the classroom session, to make the most of the time together.


Before the delivery of the virtual classroom, ensure you’ve ‘played about’ in Black Collaborate. Get a feel for the layout and functions. As the facilitator, arrive in the virtual classroom at least 15 minutes before your learners are due to arrive.

Insert a ‘holding slide’ – i.e. a Powerpoint slide that tells the participants which session they are in and what time it’s due to start.

Open the session with introductions, the intended learning outcomes and a discussion on ‘ways of working’ or ‘ground rules’ (for example: mics muted when you’re not talking, use the chat box as we go along, pop up your hand if you’d like to speak, join in activities, finish on time). This is a valuable opportunity to the set the tone for the session, consider how you can make the virtual learning environment supportive, welcoming and non-threatening (e.g. ‘there are no silly questions here and everyone’s contributions are valued).

Break the ice with participants by doing an informal check-in. This may take up the first 10 minutes of the session, but will set the scene and get participants used to engaging, an example might be using the functionality in Collaborate to have learners circle an image they relate to (a fun way of doing this is using something like the jelly baby tree).

Below are a variety of learning activity options.

Learning activity option 1:

Use the break-out room function in Collaborate to send participants off into smaller groups (3-4 people) to discuss/prepare/collaborate on a specific topic (i.e. read this case study example, and in your groups work together to answer the questions). Give the participants timings, i.e. ‘I’ll bring you back to the main group in 10 minutes, can I ask someone in each break-out room to be responsible for keeping track of the time. Come prepared to report back to the wider group’

Learning activity option 2:

Use the polling function in Collaborate to ask questions based on the pre-reading/previous learning materials to bring this knowledge and understanding to the fore and re-visit or clarify any topics that are still ‘muddy’ for learners.

Learning activity option 3:

Use the whiteboard function in Collaborate to ask questions and illicit replies. Give students a rough time-frame (i.e. ‘in the next 30 seconds, jot down on the whiteboard everything you know about X’ or ‘all the things you are still unclear about Y’). As a facilitator, you can then use these anonymous responses to pick up on topics for further exploration.

Wrap-up activity:

Towards the end of the session, ensure you leave time for questions, signpost to references or further reading, and give a contact point for students who may wish to clarify things further later on. Use a ‘check-out’ activity, for example, asking students to share their take home messages.

References: http://chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://acacia-coachingdevelopment.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Acacia-Jelly-Baby-Tree.pdf

Updated on 13/01/2023

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