Virtual classroom

Technology and the potential for a fully digital classroom have quickly emerged as an important part of modern education. Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the idea of online school had already begun to grow. In 2018, nearly 35 percent of college students reported taking at least one class online during their time at school. When it comes to education, the flexibility of online learning can present alluring benefits.

When the pandemic hit, schools were closed in countries around the world, from preschool and primary levels through colleges and universities. Students and teachers alike were forced to adapt to the changing idea of education and figure out a way to continue learning and engaging through virtual classrooms.

Even as the world’s nations look for ways to reopen in-person learning and keep everyone safe in the process, the benefits of digital learning and a virtual classroom will likely entice many to consider the option for at least some classes.

This becomes particularly true as technology continues to advance. Options now exist that can help to create a beneficial learning environment digitally and thus allow online learning to play an important role in education. However, this does require building a digital classroom that comes equipped with some critical technology that makes these classrooms possible. For this reason, teachers and students alike looking at migrating to a virtual classroom want to make sure that they have what they need to make online learning a success.

Benefits of a virtual classroom

Building a virtual classroom can offer a host of benefits for students and teachers alike, enhancing the learning experience for everyone involved.

Schools will be adapted and ready to adjust to emergencies

The global pandemic easily showed how quickly and suddenly an emergency can arise that disrupts traditional education models. When the novel coronavirus spread around the world in a matter of months, many schools and educators found themselves scrambling to prepare for virtual learning. Other emergencies or even minor events that might hinder the ability to get to a physical classroom, such as a snowstorm, can also call for students and teachers to have access to an online classroom.

Experience in building and engaging through online classrooms can ensure that education continues uninterrupted, for the benefit of every student. Whether the class was always held virtually or there was a hybrid situation in use, the virtual classroom will ensure that teachers and students are prepared.

Schools will be better equipped to offer flexibility and accessibility

One of the biggest benefits of online learning lies in the increased flexibility it can offer students. When students do not have to choose between competing responsibilities, it becomes significantly easier for them to earn their desired degrees. Digital learning environments make it much easier for them to achieve their educational goals, particularly when at least some of the learning can be done on their own schedule.

Digital classrooms can also empower students to access high-quality education even when they are far geographically. Students can find the schools and programs that fit them the best, without as much as much emphasis on what is physically closest to them. This can help to improve the quality of the education they receive.

Schools can track students learning progress online

Pulling data in a digital classroom can be easier than in a physical classroom. Most online learning management systems provide the ability to monitor when students have logged in, which learning material they have accessed and for how long.

In a traditional classroom setting, teachers know which students are engaged and which are not. Through an online learning management system, an instructor can also see how much time students spend with the interactive learning material, if they are submitting homework and are attending live lessons.

Students and teachers can remain connected even after in-person classes conclude for the day

Through virtual classrooms, even those with in-person learning will uncover a number of benefits. Digital classrooms can easily enhance the experiences of study sessions or tutoring to help when covering particularly challenging material or right before an exam. Rather than scheduling group study or review sessions that require everyone to travel back to campus, meeting virtually can simplify the entire process.

Students and professionals can also collaborate on projects, meet for office hours, and otherwise engage with each other outside the classroom. All professors know that learning should not stop at the classroom door, and creating a virtual classroom helps to enhance this guideline. Posting learning resources, copies of the syllabi, and similar types of content can benefit everyone involved in the classroom.

Qualities of a good virtual classroom

Building a digital classroom can be a challenge for many teachers. They want to create an environment that will help students continue to engage with the material and learn. A good virtual classroom will need to share many of the same attributes as a traditional classroom.

  • It should feel inviting. Students should feel welcome when they enter with opportunities to ask questions, express their ideas, and interact with the material.
  • The classroom should also help the material feel engaging. Visual aids that might be used in a traditional classroom will be able to transfer to a virtual one in many situations. Investigate ways to bring some of these best features of the in-person classroom to the virtual environment.
  • The online classroom should also encourage students to learn. Distracting background noises that can be heard during lectures, an unprofessional environment full of interruptions, and similar types of barriers that would not exist in an in-person environment should be eliminated as much as possible from a virtual one as well. This applies particularly strongly to the lectures and class meeting times held virtually.

In addition to the above important traits, there are also some characteristics unique to online learning classrooms that teachers should be conscientious about as they prepare their lessons.

  • Make sure the classroom is intuitive. Do not make it hard to find features such as recorded lectures, study guides, or where to submit assignments. This frustrates learners and immediately diminishes many of the benefits that the virtual learning environment might have otherwise offered.
  • Try to keep materials in one place as much as possible. Students can run into problems if they have to use a variety of different platforms to listen to lectures, find assignments, submit assignments, or form study groups. As many of the features of the virtual learning experience as possible should be combined into a single platform. If teachers can even collaborate with other teachers at their institutions to try and keep a level of consistency across classes that students might enroll in, this helps to take the benefit even further.

Important technology to make the migration to a virtual classroom

When building these helpful virtual classrooms, teachers and students alike may find that they can improve their experience if they focus on securing a few key pieces of technology and equipment.

Quality audio-video technology

When working with students online, having audio-video capabilities becomes essential. You want to make sure that the webcam you use to broadcast yourself to your class presents clear images that run smoothly. Poor cameras that distort the visual can be very distracting and hinder learning.

Similarly, you want to make sure that students can hear you clearly. Although many computers come with some type of microphone, make sure that it actually picks up and projects your voice in an understandable manner. If the sound is not clear, students will not benefit from your lectures and discussions and you may find yourself having to repeat yourself regularly. If your microphone and speaker do not work well, take the time to investigate and invest in a pair that will.

Ability to record sessions and videos

One of the benefits of the virtual classroom is the capacity to record videos and sessions. Students can rewatch lectures and discussions at a later date for notes, enabling them to remain more fully engaged when the discussion occurs live, for example. Recordings can also help you remember what has been covered and provide you with notes and examples as you prepare your lessons moving forward.

You can also post videos outside of scheduling class meeting times to provide students with review material or cover certain topics asynchronously. Finding classroom technology that enables you to easily record sessions and record and post videos so that your students find them will provide immense value.

Reliable computer

When you work with a virtual classroom, your computer becomes the cornerstone of your classroom. Although the ability to bring your own device can be a definite benefit for digital learning, as each student can use the device and set up that works best for them, you also want to make sure that you can depend on the computer itself.

A computer that runs slowly or regularly malfunctions can create enormous disruptions in the virtual classrooms. For students, they might find they cannot access their class discussions and lectures reliably and thus miss important classes and information. Teachers will experience increasing frustration if they regularly have to cancel classes because they could not get their computer to work properly. Investing a computer that you can count on should become a priority for everyone involved in a migration to a digital classroom.

Communication platforms

As a part of your virtual classroom, you need an easy means to communicate with your students. Therefore, make sure that you incorporate communication platforms into your classroom. Depending upon how you set up your class meetings, this platform may need to integrate with your lectures. If you meet virtually with the class for live sessions, make sure that students have a means of chatting with you and raising a hand virtually so that they can ask their questions and make their comments the way they would in a typical classroom.

Classrooms should also have a means for students to communicate publicly with the class, such as posing a general question about forming a study group, or privately directly to the professor, such as asking questions about a personal grade or project. Keeping open lines of communication helps to keep students engaged and provides you with the means needed to ensure they are absorbing the material.

IT service options

IT service can also be a helpful addition to any virtual classroom. In an environment where you want multiple people to log in simultaneously for lecturers, it will not be uncommon for students or teachers to suddenly realize that something will not work correctly for them.

IT support can be incredibly helpful. The scale at which you use your virtual classroom will influence the amount of investment needed. A class conducted through a school where a number of students meet exclusively virtually may want to invest in a type of group IT service package, where support staff can help walk teachers and students through troubleshooting their classroom struggles. If the classroom is used in a more hybrid environment, then ensuring all students know where to find user manuals and troubleshooting instructions for any technology used should suffice.

Survey platforms

Surveys can provide an immense benefit for virtual classrooms. Particularly since the use of technology in this format for a school environment is still a bit new, students and teachers want to remain open about their struggles and challenges. Surveys can make it easy to solicit anonymous opinions on the classroom and its usage. It can help teachers adjust their classrooms and improve them to make the learning experience enjoyable.

Additional computer screens

Many teachers and students working virtually find it helpful to have more than one computer screen. The multiple screens make it possible to open different applications, such as watching and engaging with a lecture or discussion while having a document open on another screen to take notes. Teachers may use one screen to share a PowerPoint with students and then the other screen allows them to still see their students.

Virtual education holds an incredible amount of potential for students and teachers who want to take advantage of digital education trends. Those interested in migrating to a virtual classroom will find that having the right tools and equipment can help make the transition smooth and ensure that the online space becomes an effective learning environment. 

by Tim Borgmann, Consultant at EHL Advisory Services - Education Consulting & Certification

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