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Talis Elevate

How to get more engagement from students when teaching online

Natalie Naik
Academic perspective Shift to Online

We recently held a webinar on the topic of deepening student engagement with Talis Elevate, and we wanted to share our top tips and examples from the user community. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in this post:

  1. How to introduce a new tool
  2. Why it’s important to set expectations
  3. What you’ll gain from building a community
  4. Adapt the module as you go to benefit students


1. Introducing a new tool to students

Introducing a new tool to students is make or break on the success of its use. Fail to get them on board and you’ve lost your chance at seeing good engagement levels. Whether it’s Talis Elevate, or any other tool supporting digital teaching and learning, here are some tips:

  • Introduce Talis Elevate early on in your modules, so that students feel comfortable using them throughout the term.
  • Get buy-in from your students. Explain why you are using this tool, how it will help them and how activities will contribute to assessment tasks. 
  • Start with easy ice breaker tasks to get students comfortable with the functionality, as well as helping to overcome the fear of posting publicly for their peers to see

Dr Wendy Garnham directed students straight towards Talis Elevate via their VLE Canvas during the first seminar of the semester. “I asked each student to either post a new discussion question or respond to an existing one on Talis to ensure they knew how to post comments and questions on there and to enable them to see in real-time how Talis Elevate worked. Rather than work in isolation on this, they sat in pairs to help each other where problems arose and I circulated to make sure they were all accessing the paper using Talis Elevate.”

The use of analytics was made clear to students so they had an understanding of how Wendy would be monitoring their activity, as well as how they could use it to track their own progress. Learn more about Wendy’s approach.

Here are some great examples of ice breaker activities done by Talis Elevate users this semester:

The screenshot below shows an example used by Dr Fran Garrad-Cole, a National Teaching Fellow at Bangor University. Fran introduced content within Talis Elevate to her Fundamentals Psychology module, which is a first-year module with a cohort of 300 students.

This was an introductory task that got students thinking about subject matter early on in the course, and getting them to use the tool and engage with peers in a low stakes way. She picked a controversial topic, posted a video on the subject and encouraged discussion to open the conversation around psychological theories. 



Suzanne Faulkner, a Prosthetics and Orthotics lecturer at Strathclyde University introduced Talis Elevate to students at the start of the term.  She did this with a straightforward task, simply asking them to pin a comment onto an image with the image annotation feature, along with their initials.

This task was related to the subject matter and allowed them to get used to the tool quickly and simply, whilst also introducing themselves to other students. There were 40 students in the class, engaging synchronously whilst on a Zoom call.



2. Why it’s important to set expectations

One of the biggest obstacles we learn about from our academic community is that often students lack the confidence to share their ideas or dispute ideas from fellow students. By setting clear expectations for how you’d like them to engage with content, you can remove some of the doubt of potentially doing the ‘wrong thing’, which could result in students deciding not to engage at all. For many, we’ve heard that introducing the learning environment as a ‘safe space’, where no question is a stupid question, is really important to support the open dialogue across the course community. 

A number of strategies can be adopted in this guise. For example, this could mean providing set tasks for a piece of content or establishing general rules and suggestions for how you’d like them to interact with the content and each other. 

It’s also important to outline how you will be using it as a tutor. Will you be involved, joining in with conversations, or will watch from the sidelines? Do you want them to respond and react to your comments, or treat them as discussion prompts? By making this clear, you’ll free up space for them to create their own discussion community.

Dr Jamie Wood told us that “I really stressed that it was low-investment, high-reward. While I monitored the space, it was for them to do the commenting”. You can read more about how Jamie introduced Talis Elevate to students this term here.

Dr Anna Rich-Abad explained that she used the students’ interaction with Talis Elevate as part of the assessment for engagement in the course. She also told us that students overcame any apprehensions about using the tool and were open to sharing their thoughts. She put this down to focusing the tool on collaboration from the very start, stressing that everyone’s comments were valid. Hear more from Anna here.

Dr Toby Carter told us “I don’t get involved with discussions directly on Talis Elevate until we get into class. I want them to have it as their own domain. For me, this feels like the right approach. On the whole, between them, they’re really good at picking up points that I would want to raise anyway. There’s great dialogue.” Find out more.


3. Build a community

Creating a community within your course opens up lines of dialogue for students. Whether it’s interacting independently with resources, or debating with their peers, a sense of community allows them to more openly share their thoughts and ideas, make suggestions and state their opinions.

Dr. Graeme Pedlingham from the University of Sussex said “One of the things that was really appealing about Talis Elevate was that it’s a useful tool in fostering independent engagement with academic texts at a deeper level. Importantly it encourages active participation, which we know produces better results and a richer understanding of the content.

Something that’s really important to us is building communities of learning between students, which we think Talis Elevate helps us achieve: supporting collaboration, helping students understand how they can work together to develop understanding together, is key.”

But how can you forge a community, especially with the barriers of working online?

  • Allow and encourage sharing. Make it clear from the outset that you want students to engage freely and share their opinions. 
  • Give space for discussion. Take a step back and allow students to interact with each other, as a tutor, be involved when necessary so that you don’t stifle the conversation.
  • Be open to feedback. Listen to students when they share their thoughts, be open to making changes or adding new content.


Jesse Stommel told us how he introduces his course and sets students up for building a community within Talis Elevate. This is an excerpt from the course syllabus: “This is a collaborative course, with discussion work in groups. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course. In order for us to work together as a community, we’ll all have to find ways to be “present” in the various places in our course lives.”

As you can see in the example below, one academic user allows students to suggest new content to be added to the resource list, encouraging students to feel like part of the course as it evolves, rather than being a passive learner. This type of crowdsourcing activity can be incredibly powerful for information skills activity, giving students more of a co-creative role in the module process, and obviously, has close alignment with activity around decolonisation of curricula. 



4. Adapting your module

Building on the last point, allowing students to be involved in shaping the course as you go through it is a great way for them to feel like part of the learning experience, encouraging engagement with the information you have co-created.

Especially in this new uncertain environment of online learning and teaching, allowing students to share feedback or suggestions on how the course is going will help you provide a better experience, and help them get more from their studies.

As you can see in the Tweet below, Nina Walker spotted that students were struggling to grasp new terminology, and added this task via Talis Elevate to help them learn ‘with and from each other’.


Dr Toby Carter used Talis Elevate to help pick up on misconceptions or new ideas for discussion, which helped him adapt and evolve the course as it went on. “ There have been opportunities to spot places where we could do more on a certain topic, or where I’ve realised the students are way ahead of where I thought they were. You always learn a lot about what’s going on with your students with Talis Elevate which makes for a much richer experience. I’ve been getting positive feedback from students about this too. At least a third of the class is regularly engaged with the content as soon as it’s available.”


Here’s a recap of our top tips:

  1. When using new tools, introduce them early as part of module introduction 
  2. Be clear with students on how you want them to use it – are there specific tasks they need to complete?
  3. Outline how you will be using it as a tutor – will you be involved, or watch from the sidelines?
  4. Add a couple of icebreakers whilst in class to get used to the tool and allow for students to raise questions or concerns
  5. Encourage a feeling of community – when asking for collaboration and discussion it’s important to reinforce that there’s no such thing as a stupid question
  6. Acknowledge the challenges of learning online and remotely


If you’d like to find out more about Talis Elevate, you can:

  • Check out our other blog posts, and user stories here
  • Email to discuss how Talis Elevate could have an impact at your institution


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