Using the Internet for Instruction: Effective Instructional Strategies at a Distance

The Internet has powerful capabilities for educators, including uses for instructional tools and other ways to facilitate learning. Discussion boards, chatrooms, and web conferencing are only a few examples of how teachers can incorporate the Internet into the classroom and provide learning opportunities that will prepare students for communicating in the 21st century and beyond. Learning through these technologies can allow students to experience true communication and collaboration with other students, educators, and professionals, and provide opportunities to build these technological skills that will help them in college and their careers. This page is dedicated to helping teachers learn about discussion boards, chatrooms, and web conferencing and how to use them for instruction. The information below is similar to my Networking Lesson page, as it follows the format found from this document but focuses only on these technologies. I hope you enjoy and that you learn a little bit more about these instructional tools that can be so beneficial to your students and your classroom.

Discussion Boards

What is it?

Discussion boards, or bulletin boards, are online communication tools that allow several users to collaborate with each other through typed comments or questions (Learning Technologies at Virginia Tech, 2011). Only one user may post a comment at a time, and other users of that discussion board may respond to the comment or question subsequently. When someone "posts" on a discussion board, this is referring to the comment or question he or she typed and submitted to the discussion. When another user responds, forming a sort of discussion, this is called a "thread" within the discussion board. Discussion boards are different from chatrooms, which you will read about below. For more information about Learning Technologies at Virginia Tech, visit

Why use it? (Relative Advantage)

According to the Learning Technologies at Virginia Tech website, discussion boards are useful for educators in an off-campus course as well as in a face-to-face classroom. This site lists seven reasons to use discussion boards in any classroom:

  • extend time for discussions beyond classroom time

  • require students to state their thoughts and engage in a discussion

  • allow all students to participate

  • provide an outlet for questions and answers from other students as well as the instructor

  • allow students to reference outside sources

  • store a record of conversations

  • allow discussions to include outside perspectives from another class, instructor, etc.


Discussion boards provide ways for students to "discuss" online with each other about relevant content or other learning purposes. Discussion boards can be useful for many different learning endeavors, but must be guided by the instructor. To engage students and keep online discussions relevant and full of learning opportunities, follow these guidelines by Klemm (1998) as outlined in Roblyer and Doering (2010, p. 232):

  • Require participation

  • Form learning teams

  • Make activity interesting

  • Don't settle for opinions

  • Structure the activity

  • Know what you are aiming for

  • Use peer grading

Instructional Ideas

Discussion boards are not only useful for facilitating a traditional "discussion" online, but can provide a way for more creative and engaging learning activities to take place as well. The Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation Resource Guide on provides several additional suggestions for incorporating discussion boards into student learning. They are: Ask Experts, Debates, Polling, Role Play, Small Groups, Peer Review, and Content Area. For a detailed description of each activity, visit page eight of the resource guide.

Additional Resources This leads to a resource guide to help teachers make the most of online discussion boards. From the University of Washington, this site is for instructors who want to learn to use discussion boards to enhance learning in their classes. This article by Mark Northover of the Centre for Learning Technologies in New Zealand gives the reader a look into using computer-mediated communication systems (CMC) and creating effective learning environments through the use of discussion boards. Class Jump is a site that serves as a sort of online discussion board that teachers can use in their classrooms to facilitate learning and discussion among students.


What is it?

Chatrooms are Internet sites that facilitate instant communications between two or more users (Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p. 222). These sites allow for typed communication between users so everyone in the chatroom can view comments and respond to each other's posts. Avatars are sometimes used in chatrooms, which are visual representations of the user; however, not all avatars accurately depict the user. Chatrooms using avatars often incorporate more visually aesthetic and interactive "rooms" for users, while other chatrooms can simply be text only

(Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p. 222).

Why use it? (Relative Advantage)

Chatrooms can be used for similar reasons as discussion boards regarding communication techniques and etiquette. The difference between online chatrooms is that the communication is instant, and it is not necessarily instant in a discussion board. However, the concept is similar in that students can communicate with users of the same community and interact with each other by asking questions and answering them regarding content or a class discussion topic. Chatrooms can facilitate the development of communication skills, thinking skills, and literacy skills due to the instant communication required for a successful chatroom discussion (Resourcing the Curriculum, 2013). For more information about chatrooms in the classroom, visit the Resourcing the Curriculum website at

Instructional Ideas

Chatrooms can be used in education for a variety of student learning needs, including many of the ways in which discussion boards can be used to facilitate learning. Virginia Tech provides some suggestions for using chatrooms in the classroom at These instructional strategies include discussion, role playing, mentoring, and critiquing. These methods for teaching through chatrooms provide students with opportunities to collaborate with each other as well as to think critically in order to help each other improve. These opportunities can create a more in-depth understanding of the content for longer retention and future application.

Additional Resources This link leads to an article that suggests certain strategies for the effective use of chat rooms in education. Education World provides ideas for how to use a chat room in your classroom as well as examples of chat room software or sites that teachers and students can use. FlashChat is an e-learning software and educational chat room provider.

Web Conferencing

What is it?

Web conferencing or video conferencing is a form of communication via the Internet that involves visual and audio communication (Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p. 223). Two or more users are able to see and hear each other in real time with the use of a camera and speakers either built in to their computers or attached by cord. Some sort of web conferencing software is required, such as Skype to facilitate the online collaboration. This use of online communication is growing in popularity and is useful for connecting people when distance separates them (Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p. 223).

Why use it? (Relative Advantage)

Web conferencing can and should be used in education to connect students to resources outside the classroom. Video conferencing can be useful in collaboration, communication, visual field trips, watching how content applies to the real world, and in many more applications. Just like in this newspaper article,, students can not only practice essential technological skills through programs like Skype, they can use web conferencing to keep in touch with relatives, pen pals, collaborate with students in other classrooms, watch a live surgery, see a baby panda being born, and many other experiences that they may or may not ever have the ability to do otherwise.

Instructional Ideas

Found at, author Adora Svitak provides five ways video conferencing can be used in the classroom. Her suggestions for educators are

  • Connect with experts

  • Virtual field trips

  • Working together

  • Accessing previously unavailable courses

  • Teaching the teachers

Additional Resources This article was written by a 12-year-old student who has published two books about educational technology. It discusses the use of video conferencing in classrooms. Global Leap is an organization that is dedicated to providing and delivering interactive videoconferencing across the curriculum all around the world. This site discusses options for videoconferencing workshops that are available under a Creative Commons license, so they are open to the public.

Online learning environments can be extremely beneficial to not only the students, but also the teacher. However, there are several concepts that educators must keep in mind when creating online assignments and learning activities. Alley and Jansek (2001) outlined ten components that are needed for a high-quality learning environment, below. Keep these in mind next time you venture into the online learning environment and you'll be on the right track to creating engaging, effective learning opportunities for your students.

  • Knowledge is constructed, not transmitted.

  • Students can take full responsibility for their own learning.

  • Students are motivated and want to learn.

  • The course provides "mental white space" for reflection.

  • Learning activities appropriately match student learning styles.

  • Experiential, active learning augments the website environment.

  • Solitary and interpersonal learning activities are interspersed.

  • Inaccurate prior learning is identified and corrected.

  • "Sprial learning" provides for revisiting and expanding prior lessons.

  • The master teacher is able to guide the overall learning process. (Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p.231)