Enhancing Student Engagement and Interaction with Online Digital Tools

Person holds device with different applications emerging from screen

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there has been an increased focus on distance education.  Here, we cover digital tools that educators might consider in enhancing student engagement and online learning interaction.

Poll Everywhere

Teaching during a pandemic can pose issues with keeping your students engaged, whether it be face-to-face or online. One tool that can help push that needed interaction is Poll Everywhere. This tool allows the user to create interactive polls that provide real-time results. As soon as the students begin to respond to the question, their results appear instantaneously. There are over 20 different types of polls that can be utilized, ranging from multiple choice to icebreakers to competitions and everything in between. Once the poll is created, it can be presented in a number of different ways:

  • Shared response link: This link can be shared with the students and is active by default.
  • Live audience link: This link can be used for presentations that are done in front of a live audience. It will be active for three hours by default but can be changed to either one day, one week, or 30 days.
  • Live results: The real-time results of this choice will be shared in the form of a chart.
  • Embed activity: This option provides you with an embed code that can be used for purposes of embedding the poll in an LMS (learning management system) such as Blackboard, Canvas, and others. Keep in mind that if you choose this, you will need to make the poll active.

Poll Everywhere app: Choosing to use the poll everywhere application allows the poll to be used in presentation software such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, and communication tools such as Slack. Poll Everywhere is a free tool, where the free plan lets you create unlimited questions and have a maximum audience size of 25. There are also options for paid versions that have more features such as the ability to create reports and maximize the audience size.


Nearpod is a web-based application that combines a number of different tools to help facilitate engaging and interactive online learning. With Nearpod. instructors can create presentations from scratch, or convert existing PowerPoints, PDFs, YouTube videos, or other multimedia into their own interactive Nearpod presentations. In addition to the built-in tools, Nearpod also features numerous integrations with other third-party platforms to further enhance student participation. Within these presentations, instructors can gauge student’s understanding of the content presented in real-time through embedded, formative assessments. These formative assessments include various polls, quizzes, and whiteboard activities to not only give students the opportunity to demonstrate what they know, but also show the instructor potential areas in which students might be struggling.

Synchronous and asynchronous interaction is a large part of distance education. Nearpod can be used in both a synchronous (live participation) or asynchronous (student-paced) format depending on the needs of the user, or structure of the class. Synchronous applications allow students to communicate with their instructors and classmates at a time and place convenient for them (Watts, 2016). Some common examples include the discussion board, email, and wikis. Asynchronous interaction happens in real-time; students can communicate with their instructor and classmates as if they were sitting right next to them (Watts, 2016). Some examples of asynchronous communication include instant messaging and chat (Watts, 2016), and other video conference applications such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Team, or WebEx (Stauffer, 2020).


Padlet is a free online application that students and educators can use to create interactive bulletin boards. The look and function of this online tool is very similar to using Post-it notes. Educators and learners can use the application to collaborate and share resources such as websites, videos, images, pdfs, and slideshows. Users can also create a custom URL (web address).  This application is an excellent way of sharing information and making online interaction engaging. One of the benefits of distance education is that it encourages student-to-student interaction, learner-to teacher interaction, and learner-to-content interaction (Bouhnik & Marcus, 2006). Some examples of how to accomplish all three kinds of interaction with Padlet in an online course is as follows:

  • Online class introductions: Have students introduce themselves via Padlet on the first day of class. Students can share personal information such as photos and videos. Only participants in the course (community site) will see the information (e.g. student-to-student interaction, learner-to teacher interaction).
  • Brainstorm ideas and concepts related to the course or assignment (e.g.  student-to-student interaction, learner-to teacher interaction)
  • Gather students’ work and have students submit a final project to a community board. This way, all students in the course will be able to see and comment on their peers’ assignments (e.g. student-to-student interaction, learner-to teacher interaction).
  • Have students work on group project assignments and use Padlet for planning and organizing information (e.g. student-to-student interaction, student-to-content interaction).
  • Utilize the site and have students create an online portfolio (e.g. student-to-student interaction, learner-to teacher interaction).
  • Share presentations (slide shows, websites, or podcasts) among the class (e.g. student-to-student interaction, learner-to teacher, student-to-content interaction).

Dr. Quentin Bellard is the lead instructional designer at Lamar University, Division of Distance Learning and is an adjunct professor in the business department at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

Edward Long is an associate instructional designer at Lamar University, Division of Distance Learning, Beaumont, Texas.

Kimberly S. McCoy is an associate instructional designer at Lamar University, Division of Distance Learning, Beaumont, Texas and an adjunct professor in the business and information technology departments at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Cleveland, Ohio. 


Bouhnik D.,  & Marcus, T., (2006) Interaction in distance-learning courses. Journal of the Amrocam Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(3): 299-305. Doi: 10.1002/asi.20277

Padlet (2020). Retrieved from https://padlet.com/

Poll Anywhere (2020). Retrieved from https://www.polleverywhere.com

Nearpod (2020). Retrieved from https://nearpod.com/

Watts, L., (2016). Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication in Distance Learning: A Review of the Literature. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 17(1): 23-32.