Going virtual isn’t new. Interest in virtual environments for work, school, and play has been growing in recent years. While the idea of working and learning in virtual environments can seem challenging, it’s actually easier than ever. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to creating virtual classrooms.
- What is a Virtual Classroom?
- What are the Benefits of a Virtual Classroom?
- Setting Up Your Virtual Classroom in 9 Steps
- How Kaltura Can Help Create Your Virtual Classroom
What is a Virtual Classroom?
While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the interest in virtual classrooms, they aren’t new. Virtual classrooms have been in use since 1976, when a community college in California began offering a degree program through telecommuting. Back then, learners were using telephone, television, and pre-recorded material to attend class and engage with instructors.
Thanks to rapid advances in technology, virtual classrooms have now expanded far beyond this in what they offer to students, teachers, and educational institutions. Today, virtual classrooms are digital learning environments. They allow students and teachers to be in different locations and access a common online classroom space through the Internet. Courses taught in virtual classrooms can be conducted synchronously (students and teacher are all present in the virtual space at the same time) or asynchronously (students and teachers log in when is most convenient to them and provide course material, assignments, and feedback at agreed-upon intervals). Most virtual classrooms utilize a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching.
Virtual classrooms are more than just an online video chat application that allows students and teachers to see each other. Well-developed and supported virtual classrooms also provide:
- repositories for class materials (including video!)
- the capacity to use breakout rooms for small group sessions
- collaborative tools like group notetaking and whiteboards
- interactive features like quizzing
- finely-sliced, easy-to-use analytics
- and support for students to create and upload their own content.
What Are the Benefits of a Virtual Classroom?
Virtual classrooms have many benefits for students, teachers, and educational institutions alike. These benefits extend well-beyond today’s current interest in social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the ways virtual classrooms benefit students:
- Asynchronous learning options can help non-traditional students manage work and family obligations
- Students can keep up with course work even if they are feeling ill
- A wide range of learning styles are easily accommodated by virtual classrooms
- Location and distance are no longer necessarily significant factors in which educational opportunities are available
- Increased student diversity facilitated by the benefits of virtual classrooms expose students to a wider range of viewpoints than in the past
- Virtual classrooms encourage collaboration, which allows for a more engaging class experience and helps develop professional skills
Virtual classrooms also benefit teachers in a wide range of ways:
- Allowing teachers to pre-record frequently used lectures, allowing time to be reallocated to discussion, student questions, office hours, grading, and more
- Helping teachers to maintain their usual class schedule even when family or health issues would, in a traditional classroom setting, interfere
- Broadening the audience for classes, boosting enrollment, and allowing teachers to maintain required teaching loads more easily
- Increased student diversity improves the range of perspectives in the classroom, benefiting teaching of multiple perspectives on key issues
Academic institutions also have much to gain from virtual classrooms:
- Increased overall enrollment, especially from non-traditional students and those outside the immediate geographic area
- The ability to expand enrollment without enlarging physical facilities
- The opportunity to hire faculty outside of the immediate area
- Reduced need for substitute teachers and classroom covers due to medical and family issues
- Reputational gains from offering innovative learning options
Setting Up Your Virtual Classroom in 9 Steps
As a teacher, setting up your virtual classroom involves preparing both the physical space you’ll be teaching from and setting up the online space that your class will be conducted from. While your educational institution will likely help with some of that, you’ll have many customization and planning options that are entirely within your control.
Here are some tips for getting started and getting your virtual classroom entirely set up.
Make Sure Your Physical Space is Ready For Teaching
First things first. You’ll want to make sure that the location you’ll be teaching from has what you need. Setting up your virtual classroom means making sure you’re aware of what will and won’t be in frame when you record video or hold a live class. While, ideally, you’ll be able to eliminate visual and audio distractions, the reality is that not everyone can because of other people (or pets!) in the home. That’s okay; just do your best and make sure you extend that same understanding to your students. You’ll also want to make sure that any visual aids or reference books you may want to use are close at hand. However, it’s worth considering if that content can be uploaded into your virtual classroom space and provided to students in other ways.
Test Your Equipment
It seems obvious, especially if you’re an experienced internet user who regularly participates in virtual meetings and online activities, but do be sure to test all your equipment. This includes your ability to connect to the virtual classroom space with your computer or tablet and audio and video inputs. Also, make sure you have a solid understanding of how to navigate your virtual classroom space and feel confident in explaining its features to your students.
Similarly, Allow Your Students to Test Their Equipment
When setting up your virtual classroom, remember that your students will also need to test their equipment and get the lay of the land. Offering support for this process can go a long way to making sure your virtual students are set up and ready to learn. You may want to provide emailed instructions but also think about going above and beyond when creating your virtual classroom. An informal, pre-class session just focused on saying hello, offering a tour of the virtual classroom space, and testing equipment can go a long way to making your class run smoothly and helping your students to feel supported.
Adjust Your Syllabus to Take Full Advantage of Virtual Classrooms
If you’re teaching a class you’ve offered before but not in a virtual setting, it’s important to consider what adjustments you may want to make it work better as an online experience. For example, you can record lectures in advance for students to watch on their own time so that you can dedicate live class sessions to Q&A and discussion. To promote engagement, you may also want to reduce the amount of lecture content and assign students to do research and present certain topics to the class as a whole. Let students know what type of activities and class format exist before the course starts by making the syllabus available early through email, your school’s learning management system (LMS), or the virtual classroom environment itself.
Prepare Your Virtual Space with Pre-Recorded Video, Readings, Assignments, and More
Just like you wouldn’t want first-time students to walk into an empty in-person classroom, you don’t want to have them arrive at an empty virtual classroom. Make sure pre-recorded videos, readings, presentations, and assignments have all been updated in advance. Not only will this allow students to explore and begin learning immediately at their own pace, it will save you time and energy later. With the right virtual classroom setup, your virtual classroom will remain just as you left it between sessions. Even more importantly? You’ll be ready to go for future offerings of your class unless you choose to update or augment some materials.
Set up Virtual Tools in Advance to Give Students Access to Whiteboards and Branded Video Players
When your students first log into your virtual classroom, it should be set up and ready to go. As previously discussed, you should be sure to have uploaded class materials and videos in advance. But this also means that part of creating your virtual classroom means having set up customizable features. If you’re using a virtual classroom solution with a whiteboard tool available, make sure that the whiteboard already has some relevant content shared to it. Additionally, if your virtual classroom solution allows for video player customization and this has not already been done by your institution, be sure to take advantage of this feature.
Establish a Grading Metric That Takes the Virtual Classroom Into Consideration
Don’t forget to consider grading when you are setting up your virtual classroom. Students will want clear information about what counts as classroom participation (Live-session discussion? Asynchronous message board participation? Homework completion? Group projects? Analytics data on accessed material?) and, if you utilize interactive quizzing, whether that will count toward their final marks. Transparency with students on grading standards is always important but becomes even more important when creating a virtual classroom experience.
Explore Analytics to Support Your Students and Improve Your Class
As you set up a virtual classroom, make sure to explore the analytics options offered by your solution. Analytics can help you see which resources students are accessing the most often, which can help guide you as you create new material for your class. Additionally, analytics can help you recognize if a student is behind on their assignments, struggling to access certain types of content, or not watching video assignments to the end. This can help you intervene to support the student before their grade is in peril.
Focus on Ways to Build Your Classroom Community
At their best, classes aren’t just informative and educational – they’re also communities where students and teachers connect around common goals and the exploration of ideas. While many of your students will likely be used to forging connections with people they are interacting with virtually, not all your students will be familiar with this. As you set up your virtual classroom – and as you teach your virtual class – it’s important to create ways for those enrolled to connect with each other. Discussion, debate, and group projects will all help. But also consider making room – especially in these unusual times of COVID-19 – to make room for students to check in with personal concerns, achievements, and observations. Teaching in a pandemic is tricky, and while all of us wish this weren’t happening, acknowledging the reality of the moment will help you create the best possible virtual classroom.
How Kaltura Can Help You Set Up Your Virtual Classroom
Choosing the right virtual classroom solution is essential. And that’s where Kaltura can help. With tools designed explicitly for educational needs, Kaltura’s Virtual Classroom offerings go away beyond basic video chat and include features like:
- A persistent virtual classroom environment that remains set-up between sessions
- A fully customizable video player to highlight your institution’s branding
- Easy integration with your institution’s LMS
- Interactive features like quizzing, virtual whiteboards, group notetaking, and breakout rooms
- Tools to help students create and upload their own virtual content
Even better? Kaltura’s virtual classroom requires no software downloads or installation. Just one click will bring students and instructors into their customized learning environment.