Exploring the benefits of virtual classrooms in education
The term ‘virtual classroom’ comes with various definitions depending on the context of its use. This is because virtual classrooms encompass a variety of curricular concepts that can be adapted to fit the user’s needs. Some virtual classrooms may focus on live, online learning and sharing, whereas others may simply act as a portal to obtain course materials, homework, assignments and even online exams.
What is a virtual classroom?
In layman’s terms, a virtual classroom is anything that can be referred to as simultaneous, real-time online learning, where users from anywhere can take part in a joint and often virtual video educational experience. As there is flexibility in the term, a virtual classroom can be anything that involves an online platform where teachers and students have the opportunity to work together synchronously.
The benefits of virtual classrooms include:
- Access to immediate feedback – one of the biggest benefits of virtual classrooms lies in its live interaction and feedback through screen sharing. Virtual classrooms offer a student to engage directly and with immediacy to their tutor, something which is not readily available in many other online learning platforms or indeed traditional classrooms.
- New and unique ways of accessing information – lectures in particular offer a far more passive approach to learning, which has its benefits for students who are able to ingest information at the same pace as their lecturers. With virtual classrooms, however, tutors are given an opportunity to expand on their teaching structures, for example creating supplementary video lectures that can be accessed, played and paused to suit the user’s needs.
- Encouraging social interaction with classmates – despite not being in a physical classroom, virtual classrooms are able to provide a strong form of social interaction and culture through distance learning. Students are able to learn to work and solve problems together and ultimately, virtual classrooms offer them a platform for debate and discussion.
- Tailored to student-centred learning – further to the previous point, it’s easier to distinguish students’ levels of knowledge and help them learn from each other in a more personal, interactive format, similar to a seminar.
- Psychological safety – there is something about working from the comfort of your own home that can make the learning process more focussed but of course, this will vary per individual according to context, environment, accessibility and technology among other things. Psychology plays a huge part in the way we learn and interact with those around us. Teachers or facilitators have an essential role in making sure learning practice is safe, inclusive and respectful. Virtual classrooms also provide a helpful platform for students or teachers who suffer from mental health issues, for example, social anxiety. Participants who do not feel comfortable attending classes – whether that’s due to COVID, psychological or personal reasons – are offered a relaxed and accessible learning platform that they can log on to. Students can even opt to switch off their cameras if they do not enjoy the idea of being watched. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that a badly managed or long use of virtual classrooms can also instil some anxiety. Social cues can be difficult to pick up on and the extra concentration required is tiring (labelled Zoom fatigue during COVID-19).
- Easier access to valuable resources – in theory students are able to simply download an app, log on and start learning. There is no need for commuting, which also saves time and money on travelling costs and other expenses typically associated with traditional classrooms (stationery, folders, notepads etc). From a teacher perspective, there will be work involved in setting up the environment and planning the lessons – there’s lots of good practice available.
- Participation can be made easier – going back to the point of immediate feedback, students are more able to readily participate. Depending on the type of virtual classroom and the lesson(s) being taught, students should be given regular opportunities to ask questions and interact with both teachers and students.
There is always a challenge to try and keep things modern and alive – StoryTagger has definitely helped us introduce this into our development programmes
Laura Frames, Bouygues Energies & Services, Learning and Development Adviser
For virtual classrooms to work, participation is essential
Training in synchronous virtual classrooms can only be successful with the active participation and engagement of the learners. This creates a positive learning environment and helps the participants achieve the expected outcomes.
During the virtual session, there should be opportunities for frequent interaction between learner and tutor, learner and other learners, and learner and content. Over the course of the virtual session, the tutor should encourage the students to participate every 3-5 minutes. This can be achieved by a variety of activities such as brainstorming, small group discussion, collaborative and individual tasks, Q&A sessions, polls and hands-on experience.
Creating a virtual classroom is simple
Virtual classrooms can be created through a variety of means, depending on your intended lesson or learning structure and outcome. Apps and platforms such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, Google Meet and Hangouts can accommodate a number of learning and teaching requirements to alleviate the need to attend physical classes.
Essentially, as long as you are creating a virtual environment where students feel safe, are able to access learning support resources and be given regular opportunities to ask questions and interact with both teachers and students – you are on route to creating a respectful and appropriate virtual classroom.
What does a virtual classroom look like?
Virtual classrooms may take many different forms depending on the nature of the class, what’s being taught and the platform being used. However, in most cases, a constant within the virtual classroom is an interactive whiteboard.
This is a web-based whiteboard that acts as a focal point for the tutor to address the lesson and to guide pupils through the lesson. Whiteboards can also include additional learning materials, such as videos, audio files and links to additional resources.
Developing the way we learn through video generated content
Virtual classrooms provide an excellent foundation for learning but work even better alongside additional asynchronous video platforms, tools or apps. This is where StoryTagger comes in, through combining the power and trust of both video and user-generated content to create accessible, impactful learning resources for both teachers and students.
Through StoryTagger, students have the option to introduce themselves beforehand, submit pre-work, post reflections of the lecturer or seminar, share practice and video learning diaries and more.
How StoryTagger can enhance the virtual classroom experience
Our video learning app is designed to guide users to reflect and share short, meaningful video stories on a specific topic. Even if you aren’t a natural storyteller or you lack confidence, our app helps you to build confidence in self-filming. At the same time, it will guide you to develop reflective practice skills so you’ll be able to pinpoint key knowledge and share a value-led story.
The StoryTagger mobile app is being used in education by students to:
- Introduce themselves to other students in their cohort and create a safe space.
- Share what they have learned from each seminar as top takeaways and as part of a video learning journey.
- Complete pre-work and ask questions to tutors.
- Record responses to specific in-lesson break-out tasks in a guided way.
- Plus tutors can create and share summaries of previous or upcoming sessions as well as reconnects between virtual classrooms.
StoryTagger offers a cost-effective, flexible and structured way of crowdsourcing user-generated video content which can then be used in development programmes, such as online teaching and learning resources.
Watch this helpful video that explains how our mobile video platform works:
Alternatively, you can get in touch with our team to learn more about how you can use the StoryTagger app to enhance your virtual classroom experiences: Get in touch today