By Pranoti Panchwagh, Wisdm Labs
I often find myself reminiscing about the good old days of school, when physics lectures were incomplete without a model explaining the concept, when we were free to ask questions of professors, and the classroom was not just a place of learning but also one of fun.
Today, we might have come a long way from that traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, yet there are quite a few values we can and should incorporate into our online learning experiences. There is a reason why I say experience, not system. While asynchronous learning has pushed the boundaries of e-learning like never before, it has also taken the joy away from the collective learning experience.
It is a proven fact that students have better retention and increased interest in lessons when they have a peer group to discuss ideas with. Virtual classrooms are an elegant solution, leveraging the power of personal interaction to make e-learning better.
We see several solutions like BigBlueButton, Bigmarker, WizIQ, Shindig, and more, offering extensive features for synchronous learning in virtual classrooms. From screen sharing, to live note-taking, to real-time interaction, there is nothing virtual classrooms do not offer, so much so that this list of features becomes rather daunting!
Not to worry. It is simply a matter of prioritizing your requirements and choosing the service accordingly. Nevertheless, there are some must-have features for your virtual classroom that make course management easier and smoother. Read on!
Must-Have Features for Your Virtual Classroom
#1 Live Lectures with Recording Enabled
The first and foremost requirement of a virtual classroom is the ability for instructors to conduct lectures in real-time, with two-way interaction supported. In addition, all these lessons should be made downloadable, so that students can download and play the videos later, at leisure. This ensures that students have the lessons ready at hand when they need them.
#2 Group Chats
One of the biggest advantages of synchronous learning is that students can interact with the teachers during the lecture as well as with the other students in the classroom. For global programs, live webinars are generally touted as a drawback of virtual classrooms since coordinating them across different time zones can be a challenge. However, you need not limit your interactivity and social tools to live sessions, there are lots of tools that can facilitate social interaction between students on their own while preserving their interactions for others to follow or engage later. No matter where they are located, students can learn a lot more from interacting with their peers from different educational and cultural backgrounds.
Group chats are an excellent way to facilitate exchange of perspectives and free flow of information and are hence, an important requirement for virtual classrooms. Tools like Slack, discussion forums, and even collaborative Google Docs can help with this if setup mindfully.
#3 Quick Query Clearance
The ability of course instructors to conduct courses in real-time, with two-way communication, is one of the reasons why synchronous learning trumps asynchronous learning. The primary advantage of this feature is that any doubts the students have can be resolved right away, within the duration of the lecture. That’s not to say that doubts do not get resolved in the normal course; but the process is much faster here, given the availability of a live chat feature or a Q&A forum (more on that later).
Considering this, it is important that you let your students raise queries easily and the instructors can in turn, address them just as easily.
#4 Recurring Notifications Prior to the Lesson
While students might be all gung-ho about your live lectures, it does not hurt to send occasional reminders to keep updating them with interesting tidbits about the upcoming lecture. At the analytics end, the number of click-throughs also gives you a fair idea of the students’ interest and anticipation for the topic. Not to mention, if your live session is tracked as an Activity in Moodle you will be able to see which students have accessed the session or weren’t even online during that time looking at the logs. If your tools can be represented in Moodle as a module or link, this is a great way to evaluate engagement through use.
#5 A Q&A Forum
Apart from the group chat option, having a dedicated Q&A forum always helps to keep track of the various threads of discussion among the students. In addition, these forums are also a great way to gauge student responses and gather ideas. You can make a note of the queries that keep cropping up frequently, and redesign your course accordingly, to ensure that they are resolved for the next batch. Q&A forums are also fertile ground for understanding the requirements of the students and generating new course ideas!
That’s it! These are the five features we think are must-haves for a virtual classroom module in your LMS. What do you think? Did we miss out on any feature you would like to recommend? Let us know in the comments section below!
This Moodle Practice related post is made possible by: eThink Education, a Certified Moodle Partner that provides a fully-managed Moodle experience including implementation, integration, cloud-hosting, and management services. To learn more about eThink, click here.