What course communication tools are available?

This section offers an overview of ways to facilitate communication within your course as it is underway.

Post course announcements in Blackboard

Blackboard's Announcements tool allows you to post updates within Blackboard and send them to students’ email (in Blackboard Original) or via Messages (in Blackboard Ultra). You will need to reach all the students in your class with important information. It’s best to use a single method to push information to students and use it consistently. One advantage the Announcements feature offers over sending e-mail directly is that the tool maintains an easy to find list of previous announcements and can display recent announcements on the Announcements page in the course.

Identify a tool for Frequently Asked Questions

Consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and making answers available to everyone as they come up. You can also build a living FAQ lessons page or forum in Blackboard as a student reference.

Piazza is a tool that is available in Blackboard that serves as an online question and answer forum that fosters discussion and collaboration. Students can post a question in Piazza, and others in the course community can respond. The instructor or the TA have the ability to endorse, edit, and delete others’ responses.

Microsoft Teams supports rapid communication like chat or instant messaging available for every student, staff, and faculty. Teams includes direct messaging between two or more people and group messaging that can be structured around topics. 

Organizing class discussions

Class discussions give students an opportunity to explore course material and concepts with classmates. They also help create a sense of community, which can feel more difficult to achieve online than in a face to face class. It is important for the instructor to monitor and participate in class discussions. The following tools can help facilitate discussions:

Live discussion using Blackboard Collaborate

Holding class meetings live with Collaborate best approximates a classroom setting, since students can ask questions and engage in discussion and group work.  

Live small group discussion using Collaborate breakout groups

Breakout Groups in Collaborate can be used periodically for moving students into small groups to work on problems or have discussions. The instructor can move between the groups as needed, and return groups to the main room to provide summaries or continue discussions. Breakout groups can be created with random assignment of students to groups, or students can be preassigned into groups by the instructor before the session starts. 

Asynchronous discussion using Forums in Blackboard

Blackboard forums provide a venue for course discussions to take place asynchronously, which can be particularly useful in online courses, where students may be engaging with the course from different time zones. Asynchronous discussions also offer the opportunity for more thought out discussion. 

Specify instructor availability

It is important for instructors to develop pathways for students to reach them. When creating the course syllabus, instructors should be very clear about how students should reach them when they need to be in contact. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how they should communicate with you, particularly for time-sensitive communications. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response.


Instructors who provide their email address to students should consider committing to a "turnaround time" for responding to students who contact them.  For example, consider writing in the syllabus something like, "I will respond to all emails I receive during the week (Monday through Friday) within 24 hours."  

Online Office Hours

Consider setting up specific windows of availability in Collaborate during which students can contact you. Schedule times that work for your students (taking into consideration their locations/timezones). Publish the times along with the Collaborate link prominently in your course site.

Creative Commons License

Flexible Teaching guides were developed by Duke Learning Innovation and adapted for NIU by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. They are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Hybrid Course Delivery

Are you planning to deliver a hybrid course? Learn more tips for designing and delivering a hybrid class.

Guide to Hybrid Course Delivery


Didn’t find what you were looking for? Need more information? Contact the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) with your feedback and questions about this resource.

Workshops & Support

CITL staff are available to answer your questions about Flexible Teaching. Give us a call or text 815-753-0595 or email citl@niu.edu for assistance. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our staff.

View CITL upcoming events to view available upcoming workshops offered or to register.

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