Online intensives

There are lots of techniques and tools you can use to facilitate online intensive teaching and learning sessions that you would usually do on campus. Here are some examples used and recommended by SCU colleagues from Session 1, 2020 to facilitate different types of intensives. Top tips are provided further below.


Health and Human Sciences

Sourced from several Health and Human Sciences units. 

  • Most laboratory classes were delivered via Blackboard Collaborate. Keeping to the regular timetable provided good attendance online. To provide flexibility, students were encouraged to attend their scheduled campus class times where possible but were also permitted to attend any other online time offering that suited them if needed.
  • Some staff teams live streamed the laboratories from campus to demonstrate skills, the correct use of equipment, using mannequins etc. Where possible, technical teams distributed practice kits to students before border closures.
  • Nursing skills and simulation case studies were filmed prior to the laboratory class. MP4 videos and YouTube videos were uploaded into the unit Blackboard site for students to watch during class. Students left Collaborate to watch videos due to bandwidth restrictions, then returned to Collaborate to discuss.
  • Nursing staff who have previously recorded videos with the Digital Resources team have accessed these files to re-purpose for online activities.
  • To encourage student interaction, more activities were included. Polls were used to see how many students have watched the lectures prior to class. This technique encouraged student engagement when compared to face-to-face class readiness.
  • To monitor the chat space conversations, multiple tutors were included in each class to assist the main tutor leading the activities.
  • Photographs of laboratory models were placed into PowerPoint slides, then converted to PDFs due to bandwidth. Laboratory topics included a PDF with relevant labelled and unlabelled details for students to draw on the slides using the Pen tool or type a label into the text box.
  • Some staff included workbook activities to assist student learning.
  • Skills assessments were often verbal assessments. Some group assessments became individual presentations or reports. To provide students choice of delivery, activities were either presented live via Collaborate or uploaded as a recorded presentation.
  • Students completed exams at the same time. A timed exam (previously invigilated) with no backtracking required students to spend a minute per question (suggested timing displayed). For flexibility, exams were offered on the same day at two different times. Students who missed the exam were instructed to apply for special consideration where a third exam version would be held at a later date.

Field trip

Environmental Science and Engineering

The face-to-face bus farming field trip for students quickly became an online residential for the new first-year unit, Farming Systems (AGRC1002).

The two-day online residential started with a guest lecturer panel including filmmaker Damon Gameau, author of 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration, and grazier Charles Massy, author of Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth. Following the panel Lorraine Gordon, Director of Strategic Projects, Office of the Vice President (Engagement) discussed the degree and agriculture in general.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic isolation, videos of farmers were taken and produced by Digital Resources. The videos included site visits and farmer interviews with the unit assessor. Before the online residential, students viewed the videos located in the unit’s online residential folder. During the residential, a one hour Q&A session was held with each of the three farmers via Zoom where students (74) had the opportunity to ask questions from what they had seen in the videos. These activities achieved high student engagement.

The second residential day involved students working on their portfolios with the unit teachers in Collaborate Ultra. Students were asked to upload a photo to encourage interactions should video streaming not be possible. Breakout rooms and whiteboards were used in small groups to facilitate discussions. The online residential ended in the main Collaborate room with a Complexity Thinking workshop facilitated by Ph.D. student Shae Brown. Here the students mapped out the goals of the farmers where they highlighted any factors influencing these goals. Post-residential, students continued working on their portfolios within their teams with weekly progress checks by the teaching team.

To cater for student interaction and wellbeing throughout the online residential, scheduled mini-breaks were encouraged for students to have a five-minute stretch or time away from the screen.

To help facilitate the first-year students to meet online and network as many students did not have existing networks and support in place, ongoing Collaborate breakout rooms were created based on student location for students to meet online outside of class to go for a study walk, exercise, talk about learnings, etc. This helped students to build their networks and manage feelings of isolation.


Health and Human Sciences - Nursing online Preparation for Placement (PEP) briefings

Online Preparation for Placement (PEP) briefings were scheduled prior to all placements, approximately 6-8 weeks before. Using Blackboard Collaborate, two session times were scheduled for student accessibility. One session was recorded for any students who could not attend and made available on the relevant unit Blackboard site.

Additional information sessions were held for each year (1st, 2nd, 3rd years) as each year needed a different level of information. Alongside the scheduled sessions, the information sessions were open forum with coverage of academic staff for the theoretical components of the degree and the PEP component specifically providing updates on the status of placement capacity, the current COVID-19 situation and impact at that time etc. Staff found these sessions significantly reduced email traffic and enquiries, and allowed staff to be completely transparent with students about the situation at that time, and what staff were doing to maintain or improve it.

Due to requirements from governing bodies, all placement requirements were as per usual and no alternatives were an option, e.g. simulation did not replace placement hours. Capacity had reduced in some placements where some students were either without a placement or held part of a placement. Staff worked towards sourcing additional hours at a later date. 

Placement procedures were largely the same as before COVID-19. However, students needed to complete an extra Commonwealth COVID-19 Statutory Declaration due the nature of the placement and declare any potential exposure in their employment etc.

Business and Tourism – Internship placements (work integrated learning)

There are a range of solutions for students on placement in businesses who can no longer work within the organisation. Students were asked to continue to complete assessments, and do one of the following:

  • Move to working from home to continue with the operational work or a project for the business. Staff communicated early and often with industry supervisors for this to happen. The following resources and tips from the University of Waterloo were shared with students and supervisors to support this process:
  • Complete experiential learning online with a team-based problem-solving project with third-party provider, Practera.

Additionally, students were encouraged to participate in activities offered by SCU’s Careers & Employability team including the Virtual Careers Fair from the Bright Futures Mentoring Program.

Assessments were modified for tourism students who had a community-engaged learning (CEL) component to their assessment. This included students who normally visited a restaurant, hotel or club to evaluate an actual event. The information gained through the onsite visit was now sourced via online resources. For example, students who were required to conduct an onsite physical ‘walk through’ now completed the assessment by attending a similar business walk-through delivered on YouTube.

To provide an online virtual placement for some students for Session 2, the Community Engagement Project (COM30001) unit from the School of Arts and Social Sciences was used. This unit provided a work-integrated experience using the Live Ideas projects for students to work with community partners.


Residential schools are longer intensives normally held over a few days. Consider pre-recording some of the activities for students to complete before the intensive session.

Law and Justice Studies - Summer school residential

Early in 2020 due to fires, the face-to-face residential switched to online over a very tight timeframe. After initial conversations with the unit assessor, the professor based in Italy, with help from her IT support, recorded four Blackboard Collaborate sessions for students to view at their own time. After viewing the online recordings, three non-compulsory Zoom sessions were held with the professor. The assessment was changed to three short-answer questions posted after each lecture.

This format worked really well for the student cohort to watch the lectures asynchronously at their own time as many students were working and had families. Although there were time difference issues, the students who were able to participate at the 7pm Zoom sessions were able to ask questions of the professor and performed better in the assessment. Future residential schools may follow the same format to cater for student flexibility of viewing learning resources at preferred times. Variations may include several shorter recordings and, if time differences allow, some guest lecturers may deliver a live synchronous lecture.

Arts and Social Sciences – Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) online residential

A team of four unit assessors turned two face-to-face postgraduate intensive residentials previously held over a week into an online residential program for first and second year students. During the intensives, students developed a range of skills such as group work, clinical skills, community development, and foundational theoretical knowledge for skills and practise. The team used the technology supported tools of Blackboard Collaborate for teaching delivery (main platform), Zoom for student interviews, and OneDrive for students to upload assessment files.

Time spent in preparation and the connection across the teaching team was key to holding the online program delivered to 60 first-year and 70 second-year students. Hours of preparation beforehand paid off from the student skills observed, and the positive feedback received from students.

Several key strategies helped the residential success:

  • Planning, preparing and identifying outcomes: Time to create a consistent look and feel for students when navigating between the first-year units. The same approach was used for units in the second-year intensive. Time discussing and identifying the minimum levels of specific outcomes students needed to achieve, and tailoring the program to suit these levels.

  • Establishing student connections: Staff spent some time to allay the fears of students’ who had initial reservations about how they were going to manage the online program with family responsibilities, and what to do if their internet connections didn’t work. Students were able to contact the Technology Service Desk for help when needed. To cater for flexibility, the content was repeated at different times. Students also used their own forms of social media (Facetime, WhatsApp, etc.) to connect alongside and outside of the online program with peers.

  • Building technology skills: Staff appreciated and found invaluable the daily Live Support Collaborate drop-in and Friday Free-for-all sessions to ask questions on how best to use a tool. However, these sessions were not enough. Time was invested in investigating the capacity of Zoom and testing to enable both faces to appear on the screen when the student interviews were recorded. Tip sheets were developed to guide students to set up their Zoom accounts, how to record, and how to upload files to OneDrive.

  • Providing mixed activities and pre-recorded sessions: To prepare students, the program agenda outlined the times required to participate online and when to work independently. Different techniques were used to suit the teaching. To encourage and maintain interest, some lecture material was pre-recorded for students to watch ahead of time. Guest presenters pre-recorded their presentations for students to watch in their own time which was followed by a scheduled live Q&A with the presenter. Students watched clinical skills videos before meeting online and used Zoom to practise telehealth interviews.

  • Setting expectations and moments of gratitude: Setting expectations from the start of the online program helped the teachers to set the tone for this experience - acknowledging that this situation was unique and that it was also okay should the technology not always work. As social work content may be challenging at times, the team regularly checked in on students and asked students to let the teachers know when to change the content focus if needed. The team spoke of ‘moments of gratitude’ for all to acknowledge that they were connected throughout the online program during this time of COVID-19. Activities ranged from asking students to stretch or run on the spot to keep energy levels up, or to draw pictures on the whiteboard to show how they were feeling.

  • Facilitating active participation: To encourage participation online, students were randomly assigned to Blackboard breakout rooms for group work, then moved back into the main room for group presentations and whiteboard brainstorms. Two units involved students interviewing each other for counselling interview practise using Zoom, where 20 breakout groups were established with teachers coming in and out of rooms as needed during the practise times. Teachers did not enter the rooms for the final assessment due to recording. Students later uploaded the files to OneDrive for marking. For the group assessments, students also used creative ways to present and analyse photos, and where appropriate added music for support.

What the team learnt

  • Make sure there is a comfortable number of students within a breakout group activity (3 to 4 students worked well for group dynamics).
  • Ensure pop-up approvals within browsers are enabled for a consistent internet connection. Technology Services were able to assist students when locked out due to pop-up screens.
  • Include additional tutors to move between the breakout rooms to assist facilitation.
  • Ensure another tutor is present to manage the chat space to clarify any points or to include hyperlinks on what is being discussed at the time.
  • As final assessments were recorded, teachers did not enter the breakout rooms. For marking, ensure either a teacher remains in the room or can watch the recording after.
  • The team is considering changing the future online residential program format to match the class time. This would require switching to a dedicated online program of 4 hours per week over 12 weeks.

Top tips

Be comfortable with any technology tool you intend to use

The number one tip shared from staff across SCU is to be comfortable with any technology tool you intend to use and might recommend for students. Familiarity is important for teaching staff and students to enable them to use any tool effectively. To reduce student anxiety and promote connection, it is a good idea to provide all the support information about a new technology at the beginning, so everyone feels comfortable and confident. Online teaching success is enhanced when staff conduct team meetings beforehand to practise how to use the tools, create breakout rooms and other aspects. This is an opportunity to talk through strategies, and how to manage and facilitate teaching delivery and the roles required.

Several resources are highlighted below as key educational principles to keep in mind when designing and delivering intensives. Although specific tools are mentioned, the techniques can always be tweaked to suit the situation.

Connect with students

Providing social presence includes strategies for creating an online community to encourage student participation, and enhance and maintain social presence.

  • Check-in frequently with students before, during and post an intensive session to promote a sense of engagement and connection.
  • Separate Blackboard Collaborate rooms can be created for campus-related consultation times to provide students with the flexibility to login, to gain assistance and to connect with others.

Getting students involved

Encourage student participation in Collaborate Ultra by using polling, asking students to share contributions (links and videos) in the chat space, use the whiteboard to work through problems together, and include group work by using breakout groups.

  • Offer a variety of experiences during intensive sessions to keep students engaged.
  • Rather than holding one large continuous two-hour session as they can be hard for everyone to sustain, hold smaller sessions with regular breaks.
  • Use breakout rooms to facilitate smaller group involvement.
  • Staff have stated that having at least one student in a class who is willing to turn on their microphone and share makes a huge difference to the online class energy.
  • To encourage student participation across the class, ask a question where all students post their answer at the same time when prompted.
  • Use polls as a group participatory activity.
  • Multiple choice questions both engage students and provide discussion points for teachers to work with.

Teaching online

Online teaching includes key strategies such as creating a teaching presence, avoiding cognitive overload by chunking learning content, and fostering interaction and communication among students and teachers (social presence).

  • Include and encourage pre-readings and activities for students to complete in their own time in preparation for intensives.
  • Convert all PowerPoints to PDF format before uploading online to help avoid potential bandwidth restrictions and problems.

Facilitation tools and techniques for large events

Facilitation of large events provides ideas on how to prepare students before they enter the online space, and how to facilitate online discussions.

  • Include extra support from colleagues during intensives to help facilitate the session.
  • Organise a host to facilitate the session with moderator/s from the discipline to respond to chat space conversations.
  • Consider including guest speakers from time to time to add a different perspective to the session.

Technology tools and recording tips

Within a Blackboard site, any number of Collaborate Ultra sessions can be created and set up at different times or concurrently. Each session can cater for up to 500 participants. The lecturer or moderator can record the session. When using breakout rooms, keep one student group in the main room to ensure an active recording for students watching the video later. Refer to Teaching in the Blackboard environment and join the live support sessions such as the Friday Free-for-all held in MySCU.

Zoom meeting rooms and Zoom webinar rooms have different functions to manage these different types of events. In both spaces, make sure the host schedules the meeting to record the session, or provides a co-host with permission. 


Thanks to all colleagues who contributed practical tips and strategies used in this resource.

(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)