Interactive online workshops at scale

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Context & Scale

Student class sizes increasingly fluctuate and are difficult to predict in advance. Pandemic, natural disasters, and climate change, prompt educators and students to teach and learn in different ways. Managing the balance between study, work, family, and friends is becoming more complex and fluid (Bryant et al., 2021). Hence educators need to consider more flexible teaching approaches than the traditional class configuration of one teacher and a small group of students.

This pattern addresses the challenge of managing changing class sizes with interactive online workshops. These workshops are grounded in reflective, experiential learning (Harvey et al., 2016). All students have opportunities to engage with teachers and each other while using technology to develop information and digital literacy.


Educators need to design the structure and format of their classes, often at short notice, in response to unforeseen circumstances or increasing enrolments. Large, diverse groups of students who may not be located in the same geographical area, require equitable access and an engaging learning experience.


The structure of the subject is changed to support large-scale online workshops instead of small on-campus tutorials. The weekly workshop is divided into three parts: an orientation plenary, group work, and a review plenary. Plenaries are used to review and reinforce the key concepts of the week’s learning, check for understanding, clarify ideas as needed, and ensure that all students had a common understanding of the material and process. All teachers meet regularly and are guided to reflect on the workshops and their teaching practice (Shambaugh & Magliaro, 2001).


  • Before the semester begins, design and develop self-paced online modules with discussion forums. These modules are developed in place of time-bound live lectures and support the workshops.

  • Schedule a regular meeting where the teaching team debriefs and discusses upcoming workshops and topics, and feeds back insights to improve learner experience, throughout semester.

  • Begin the online workshop with an orientation plenary. Teacher/s outline activities and what to expect from the workshop. Key content or skills are briefly presented or demonstrated. Students are encouraged to ask questions and teachers probe understanding and address possible misconceptions.

  • Form small groups in online breakout rooms. In a large online workshop format, many teachers can visit and support many different groups in breakout rooms. (This format can also be adopted for on-campus learning by using table groups.)

  • Facilitate student work in small groups, using digital whiteboards to capture and visualise ideas. Digital whiteboards are preferred as they enable greater access that persists beyond workshop time.

  • Review and reflect in a closing plenary with the whole group. Elicit contributions and provide feedback on the groups’ whiteboard artefacts.

  • Offer regular, daily consultations to further support students.

  • Evaluate at the end of semester and feedforward relevant suggestions into the next iteration.

Examples of pattern in use

Information Systems (Postgraduate)

This pattern was tested in a second-year postgraduate core subject, INFS6018 Managing with Information and Data. Since 2018, the the cohort has grown from 60 to more than 1000 students in 2021.

The approach was iteratively developed and implemented. We acknowledge the coordinators and lecturers involved from the Business Information discipline, including Associate Professor Daniel Gozman and Professor John Buchanan in conjunction with a committed teaching team (including head tutors Andrew Crawford and Jemimah Knight).


In this subject, students learn a business rather than technology perspective of information systems, in the context of strategic and operational analytics and decision making. Since 2018, the teaching team has progressively refined the subject to embed higher order, critical thinking skills, using a reflective framework (Gibbs, 1988).

In 2022 online remote delivery at scale was further designed and developed with the CLaS principle of information engagement. Live and recorded lectures were replaced with weekly, self-paced online modules on Canvas LMS. The figure below shows the flexible patterns that combine:

  • Self-paced learning +
  • Interactive workshop (designed for online delivery first) +
  • Additional flexible individual support

INFS6018 pattern showing weekly structure of interactive online module + workshop + drop-in consultations with an on-campus option.

Student Feedback

Students surveyed responded positively to the interactivity of the workshop and to working in small groups together. Some students preferred in-person workshops for group discussion and noted that it was more difficult to “warm up” to peers in Zoom settings where cameras were turned off. It was suggested that further refinement and iteration of the assessment might encourage more participation in some cases. Below is an example of student response from a focus group:

…definitely liked the way that the teachers gave us flexibility in for us to organise our time. So for example, they will give you around an hour to discuss and then you need to, like finish all the pre-questions, but at the same time, you also need to choose who to be the chairperson, and who like, which person to do the presentation. So you kind of are engaged in your teamwork in every week, and also time management. And you can also do a little bit of warm up at the beginning. So I kind of like this way of collaboration in a group…


About the Authors

Carmen Vallis

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