Virtual classrooms can support learning excellence if they’re equipped with the right tools that instructors and students value and understand.
An online learning environment isn’t going to win over faculty, other trainers and students if the interactive tools aren’t suitable for different aspects of a given course.
Options abound so it makes sense to roll out tools that have been carefully considered to help engage students who otherwise may not grasp the course material as much as they should.
Keep in mind that the best learning content management systems (LCMS) accommodate many types of tools and content while working hand in hand with learning management systems (LMS) to meet the diverse needs of learners.
Connectivity can be an issue, but the quality of web conferencing has improved dramatically over time. Two-person video conferencing makes it easy for participants to speak to each other. With multipoint conferencing, three or more people can get the sense that they’re in the same conference room. Look for features like public/private chat, user polling, webcam compatibility, a meeting scheduler, quizzing, breakout rooms, LMS integration and more.
Chat technology should be flexible enough to accommodate small audiences so participants can freely communicate with one another. For large groups, chatting can get out of hand. It’s almost always best to let the moderator sort through comments and questions and determine which ones can be addressed during a presentation. Students should be able to share links and documents through chat and instructors should have the option of recording the chat sessions.
Instructors have many choices when using whiteboard technology. Drawing tools include:
- Rectangle tool
- Ellipse tool
With hardware and software tools, fully integrated presentation can be recorded, including PowerPoint presentations and whiteboard annotations. The recordings can be edited and made available as asynchronous presentations for students.
Online learning can be daunting for some students who would benefit from a “Gateway course” that covers best practices, communication standards (including netiquette) and the basics of how virtual classrooms work. Students should review what they learned with an academic adviser so they can be sure they ca n handle other online courses and be comfortable with independent learning.
Virtual classrooms should feature a variety of ways to keep students interested in the course (beyond the necessary learning modules and books). Options include:
- Interactive learning games
- Study sessions
- Discussion boards
Enhanced with LCMS and audio tools, virtual classrooms promote collaboration and real-time brainstorming that can be appealing to students. Live activities can also be recorded and archived for students who miss a discussion (or simply want to review the information).
Here are some of the tools available to support virtual classrooms:
BigBlueButton – Open source web conferencing
Animoto – Video creation software
MindMeister – Mindmapping software
Livebinders – Digital organizer
Scoop.it – Curation software
Quizlet – Flashcards