As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Australia, universities are racing to convert face-to-face subjects into formats that can be delivered on-line. Staff who already design and teach on-line know full well that “putting a course online” is nowhere as easy as it sounds and can be fraught with problems when done in haste. The generous sharing of good advice from sector experts has been a boon in these turbo-charged endeavours. Technology enhanced learning (TEL) professionals have also formed their own on-line support communities.

While time is of the essence, recent Australian research into what works better online provides further key guidelines for institutional approaches to keep students engaged and feel supported. Not all these guidelines can be implemented as quickly as others, but three of the most important ones should be achievable.

Firstly, it’s important to recognise the diversity of student needs. Not everyone has access to reliable internet and up-to-date computers, so best to keep technology relatively simple; many students will need flexibility to combine study with other home, family and work commitments, or to manage health/disability issues. Not all will be able to attend synchronous sessions; many will be relying on evenings and weekends to get their study done. Extensions of time for assessment tasks will likely be necessary.

Secondly, a strong teacher-presence, with regular communication through discussion boards, emails, blogs etc. is crucial.  Multiple studies report that, without regular and meaningful contact and communication with their teachers, online students are quickly disillusioned and disengaged.

The third essential is interactive and engaging course design, which means something very different from simply uploading recordings of hour-long lectures, or static text-heavy slides. Easy-to-implement suggestions include: using multimedia that’s short and snappy; choosing formats and content that keep students interested, such as quizzes, relevant questions and tasks, and/or interactions with other students; and clarifying expectations of this mode of learning.

However, for teaching staff to achieve these three student essentials, coordinators, administrators and relevant professional staff must do three things as well:  i) provide teachers with information about their class demographics; ii) give them sufficient paid time to meaningfully communicate with online students; and iii) make sure they have the resources they need to develop engaging learning materials, including advice from (somewhat overstretched!) TEL professionals where possible.


Dr Cathy Stone, Conjoint Associate Professor, Social Work, University of Newcastle, Australia

Adjunct Fellow and 2016 Equity Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University, Australia [email protected]

Dr Nicole Crawford, 2019/20 Equity Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University, Australia

Lecturer, Pre-degree Programs, University of Tasmania, Australia, [email protected]


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education