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

Post course announcements in Sakai

Sakai’s Announcements tool allows you to post updates within Sakai and send them to students’ email. 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 course overview page.

> Add an Announcement in Sakai
> Complete Guide to Sakai Announcements

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 Sakai as a student reference.

Ed Discussion is a tool, available in Sakai, that serves as an online threaded discussion and question and answer forum to foster collaboration. Available as a limited pilot, many of Ed Discussion’s features like topic categorization and anonymous posting can be useful for teaching courses in any discipline, and equation and code editors are especially helpful for teaching courses with a science focus.

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. Teams can easily be added to your course using Kits.

> Ed Discussion Quick Start Guide (PDF)
> Ed Discussion: a Potential Piazza Alternative
> Duke Kits
> Microsoft Teams at Duke
> Microsoft Teams: Remote Collaboration (video)

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 Zoom

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

Live small group discussion using Zoom breakout rooms

Breakout rooms in Zoom 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 Sakai

Sakai 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, particularly with effective discussion prompts.

> Using breakout rooms
> Creating Forums in Sakai
> Complete Guide to Sakai Forums
> Building Better Breakout Sessions

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 Zoom 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 Zoom link prominently in your course site. Enable Zoom’s waiting room feature if privacy is needed when consulting with students.

> Recommended Zoom Settings for Office Hours and Classes