Sustaining Student Interactions in Large Scale Collaborate Ultra Sessions

A large scale session in Collaborate Ultra is one with more than 250 but fewer than 500 participants. Collaborate Ultra currently supports a maximum of 500 participants. For large scale sessions, features that normally promote participant interactions are restricted. Specifically, at or beyond the 250-limit, participants will not be able to share their audio, video, post chat messages, or draw on whiteboards and files. Drawing on responses from a recent webinar facilitated by the Learning Enhancement Team for the College of Science, Engineering and Health,  this post proposes four tools teaching staff may choose to adopt if they wish to circumvent this limitation and ensure purposeful student-to-student and instructor-to-student interactions are sustained.

Real-time Check-for-Understanding with GoSoapBox

GoSoapBox is a web-based interactive student response system (SRS). Earlier versions of SRS’s were wireless handheld devices commonly-referred to as “clickers”. These clickers were traditionally presented to students for use within lectures. Lecturers would pose specific questions to their audience who would then respond to these questions. Previous versions of clickers offered students the ability to respond with “yes” / “no” responses or at most, the option to choose from an array of predefined choices (Caroll et al., 2018). With modern-day alternatives such as GoSoapBox, students are able to respond to a broader range of question types — and from the familiarity of their personal learning device — be it a laptop, or a mobile phone.

GoSoapBox is equipped with the following features:

  • Social Q&A that encourage students to pose and respond to questions from their teacher and peers.
  • Confusion Barometer where students may virtually provide quick progress feedback on how they are tracking with the activities and lecture content. This feature can also be used to evaluate the extent to which students understand instructions for a task.
  • Discussions where carefully-worded questions may invite insightful responses from students.

Recent evidence suggests that GoSoapBox has the potential to improve student engagement and promote favourable peer-to-peer interactions (Sika-Paotonu, Robinson & Maling, 2017; Carroll et. al., 2018). By making learning processes visible, GoSoapBox can also be used to provide information on how students are progressing with the learning material and activities (Kohnke, 2019).

For more details on GoSoapBox, please read this post.

Whole Class Active Learning with Padlet

Padlet offers students the opportunity to post responses, images and a range of other multimedia content to an online ‘noticeboard’. This online noticeboard is accessible at any point during or after lectures (Garnham & Betts, 2018). At a glance, a padlet wall is able to display the ‘voices’ of all students who participated in the session.

The following are a few ways in which Padlet can be used:

  • A KWL map where prior to attending a class, students post to a padlet wall what they KNOW about a topic and what they WANT to know. As the session progresses, they refer to this map and post what they have LEARNT or ARE LEARNING about the topic.
  • A collaborative quiz where at the end of the session, students post their responses to a range of teacher-provided questions.
  • A twitter-like back-channel for students to have conversations around the topic of focus.

There is research evidence testifying of the value of Padlet. For example, the use of Padlets in a Foundation Year Psychology class has encouraged students at the University of Sussex to transit from “passive presence” to “active collaboration” (Garnham & Betts, 2018). Padlet was also found to have served as a platform that facilitated knowledge capture and sharing. This is especially valuable for students who might not be able to attend a session due to an unforeseen reason (Frison & Tino, 2019).

For more details on Padlet, please read this post.

In-class Group Work with Microsoft 365

Most of us are well-versed with the Microsoft suite of productivity tools such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Microsoft 365 is the cloud-based collaborative version. With the cloud-based version, documents, presentations or spreadsheets can be created, shared and edited by multiple students in real-time.

Consider the following two suggestions for using Microsoft 365:

  • Teachers may organise peer support groups, upload a Word document with section headings and invite students to co-construct lecture notes. The Review feature will further allow students to comment on their peers’ contributions without overwriting them.
  • Prior to the session, students might meet in smaller groups to engage in discussions around a topic or question. Ideas discussed can be documented on a PowerPoint slide which can then be presented to the class at the session. Facilitators are able to upgrade a student from a participant to a presenter for this purpose.

Student Feedback with MS Forms

Despite all our best intentions and efforts, the aforementioned tools and strategies to support interactions may still fall short. Only into the second COVID-19 shaped semester, universities are still navigating unfamiliar terrain. It is therefore important to obtain regular on-going feedback from students to assess how they are responding to the new ways of learning. The Microsoft 365 suite of tools includes a survey tool that can be set up to obtain open honest feedback from each student. This feedback can then be used to inform future sessions.

In eliciting feedback from students, consider the use of the START-STOP-KEEP framework:

  • What should we START doing during our Collaborate Ultra sessions?
  • What should we STOP doing during our Collaborate Ultra sessions?
  • What should we KEEP doing during our Collaborate Ultra sessions?

Not only will this framework help you to identify priority areas that must be addressed, it will also enlighten you on aspects of the session that students liked.

If you would like advice and support on scheduling and delivering sessions on Collaborate Ultra, please email Should you encounter any technical issues, please log it with ITS, providing as much detail as you can in your report.


Carroll, J. A., Sankupellay, M., Rodgers, J., Newcomb, M., & Cook, R. (2018). GoSoapBox in public health tertiary education: A student response system for improving learning experiences and outcomes. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 34(5).

Ellison, A., & Arora, M. (2013). Harnessing the power of Office 365 to provide a social learning environment through a new Student Portal. In EUNIS 2013 Congress Proceedings (Vol. 1, No. 1).

Frison, D., & Tino, C. (2019). Fostering Knowledge Sharing Via Technology: A Case Study of Collaborative Learning Using Padlet. In Connecting Adult Learning and Knowledge Management (pp. 227-235). Springer, Cham.

Garnham, W. A., & Betts, T. (2018). The Padlet Project: Transforming student engagement in Foundation Year seminars. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, 11(2).

Kohnke, L. (2019). GoSoapBox–Encourage Participation and Interaction in the Language Classroom. RELC Journal, 0033688219872570.

Sika-Paotonu, D., Robinson, B., & Maling, T. (2017). Engaging Postgraduate Students Undertaking Clinical Pharmacology Using GoSoapBox for Problem-Based Learning. Journal of Nursing Education, 56(9), 575-576.