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Radboud University

Engaging students through the use of online learning tools

Radboud University maximises student engagement and participation through a rewarding online learning experience.


Radboud University

  • D2L Brightspace
  • Recorded and live virtual lectures
  • Quizzes and group discussions
  • Assignments

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The COVID-19 pandemic meant universities had to transition teaching and learning to online. Radboud University in the Netherlands rose to the challenge, making full use of the digital tools in D2L Brightspace for high levels of student interaction.


  • Anne Sadza, Communication Science Lecture



  • Continuity of learning maintained during COVID-19 pandemic
  • Positive student feedback on the learning experience and high levels of engagement
  • Self-directed learning; content variety; peer and lecturer interaction; applied knowledge

Using the learning platform actively—introducing discussions and quizzes and different formats—brings variety to lessons and promotes applied knowledge.

Anne Sadza, Communication Science Lecturer, Radboud University


To Translate Course Content For Online Delivery

The Communication Science Master’s degree at Radboud University explores how the media is used to communicate. Within the programme, the Young Consumers course focuses on the media choices of children and young people—how these develop throughout the phases of childhood, as well as how the media can have both positive and negative impacts on the wellbeing of this group.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the course was taught in-person through lectures and seminars. When this wasn’t possible in 2020, Anne Sadza, Communication Science Lecturer, set out to transform the way the course was taught through online learning tools.

“The key challenge was how to translate a course structure that consisted of one-and-a-half hour lectures and seminars, together with assignments, to be delivered online,” explains Anne. “Over an hour is a long time to keep more than 50 students engaged when a lecture is delivered virtually.”

Comprehensive literature supports the course but, as the content was always covered during lectures, the students didn’t always consider it necessary to read it.

“We wanted students to use all the materials in the best way for their learning,” adds Anne. “With online teaching, we could use different forms of delivery to get the most out of each. Bringing students and lecturers together enables them to discuss and explore ideas, whilst online content is perfect for students to do their own preparation for the collaborative sessions.”

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Creative Use Of Learning Platform Tools

Radboud has used D2L Brightspace across the university since September 2018. Accordingly, Anne looked at how the tools of the learning platform could be put to creative use to deliver an engaging course for students studying from home.

Anne says: “We wanted to take a team-based learning approach. The assignments leading up to the final assessment were always done in groups and we didn’t want to lose that collaboration. With online learning, we understood the importance of having interaction touchpoints, but also the ability to support self-directed learning. We set out to equip students with the materials they’d need to prepare for lectures, seminars and other interactions.”

The course was structured through D2L Brightspace with student schedules that outlined a clear timeline and expectations. Students self-served, reading uploaded literature and viewing recorded knowledge clips to prepare for online lectures. During lectures, breakout rooms helped students to collaborate.
Before the first lecture, students prepared a vlog or poster that they uploaded to the platform and used to introduce themselves to the rest of the class. To ensure active learning they took quizzes to test their knowledge, first individually and then as a group. Discussion forums enabled peer learning and provided a vehicle for students to put questions to the lecturer. Students created their assignments in the platform and shared their content to discuss with each other.

“The quizzes and assignments created a dynamic learning environment and the range of tools kept students interested,” says Anne. “It was a cohesive programme—each tool fulfilled a specific job and helped students learn independently, together, and from the lecturer.”

“Teaching and learning online requires its own approach. At Radboud, we have faculty-wide discussions on how to plan and deliver courses.” — Anne Sadza, Communication Science Lecturer, Radboud University

It’s an approach that affirmed Anne’s belief in making full use of the learning platform to maximise engagement and deliver a rewarding learning experience. “Get creative!” says Anne. “Don’t use the learning platform just as a content repository.”

Students were properly prepared, and the assignments were executed wonderfully. They thought the course was dynamic and varied.

Anne Sadza, Communication Science Lecturer, Radboud University


Maximum Participation For Successful Learning Outcomes

The Young Consumers course was successfully delivered to students who engaged with the format and the learning environment. Anne was satisfied that students were able to use the tools in the platform to help meet learning outcomes.

“The format lends itself well to reflecting on tasks, getting to know the subject matter and evaluating the learning,” says Anne. “Students are used to commenting on content and interacting online; through the platform we can capitalise on this familiarity to make learning fun, collaborative and effective.”
At a time when it wasn’t possible for students and lecturers to be together in person, the platform’s tools ensured that collaboration and interaction were still key features of the course.

Independent learning was promoted and enabled through content that students consumed ‘out of class’. They brought the knowledge they gained to inform lively group discussions and applied it through their assignments. “Students could get more detail on the subject in their own time,” adds Anne. “This meant more time during contact hours to raise and explore questions and for meaningful lecturer-to-student and student-to-student connections.”

For lecturers, levels of participation were clear through engagement in the interactive sessions. “Course evaluation was very positive from students,” concludes Anne. “They liked the variety and the format, and enjoyed the level of independent learning.”

At a time when students and lecturers were unable to meet in person, Radboud University’s creative use of D2L Brightspace ensured that learning continued and thrived. As a D2L customer of three years, Radboud has built up extensive experience, delivering blended and online learning for its 20,000 strong student cohort across a range of faculties. The Communication Science faculty’s creative use of online tools is another example of Radboud’s successful delivery of engaging and outcomes-based learning experiences.

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