Advantages of Virtual Classrooms and How Large Districts Can Benefit
Making Large Feel Smaller
I happen to live and work in the suburbs outside of a large metropolitan area school district. It is not even one of the Top 100 largest in the United States, and yet I can see firsthand the inherent difficulty in attempting to connect and unite its various campuses and schools.
Enter the virtual classroom.
Although there is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes a virtual classroom, the general consensus is that it is "a teaching and learning environment where participants can interact, communicate, view and discuss presentations, and engage with learning resources while working in an online setting."
The bottom line: Virtual classrooms present opportunities for real-time digital collaboration that holds promise for even the largest school districts.
6 Advantages of Virtual Classrooms
The following represent the many potential benefits of the virtual classroom for large school districts:
1. Fosters Teacher Collaboration
Augmenting and, in some instances, replacing face-to-face interactions, online platforms provide opportunities for teachers to share lesson plans, resources, and participate in massively open chats. Also, co-teachers can use virtual environments to share resources and co-plan, even if they don't have common planning periods.
2. Fosters Student Collaboration
Collaboration online thrives once professionals do the heavy lifting of defining teamwork, setting team selection criteria, explicitly teaching team communication skills, and more. When group norms are in place and established, the virtual classroom can come alive as a one-stop brainstorming, discussion, presentation, and reflection center that can seamlessly serve students between classrooms, schools, or districts.
3. Supports Asynchronous Learning
Fostering successful asynchronous learning—where individual students can login on their own time and at their own pace and not miss the benefits of real-time collaboration—is a hallmark of good virtual classrooms.
4. Gives Students Access to New Experiences
Students in large school districts in America's heartland probably aren't taking a lot of field trips to the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome or personally witnessing the grandeur of the Sydney Opera House. The virtual classroom, supported by improvements in virtual reality, instantly changes all of that. Students can also talk with and learn from peers, professionals, and others no matter how far away they live.
5. Promotes Digital Citizenship
In rancorous times, the need for civility and thoughtful discourse on the internet looms large. ISTE has identified nine digital citizenship elements in three big-picture categories (Respect, Educate, and Protect). When students come together in a virtual environment, they have an opportunity to practice these elements after teachers have provided explicit instruction in them.
6. Enhances Student Engagement
The virtual classroom has the potential to replace elements of the industrial revolution-era education system (think desks in rows and "drill and kill"-style lectures) that remain so vexing to 21st century progress. Through virtual classroom tools, such as polls, instant feedback, and increased opportunities for connection with peers and outside experts, the classroom becomes a more open and engaging place for all learners.
4 Ways for Your Teachers to Use the Virtual Classroom
With the advantages of virtual classrooms becoming clear, how can your teachers fully realize its potential? Through the virtual classroom, your teachers can:
1. Incorporate Immediate Feedback for Students
Automated assessments, from embedded formative quizzes to longer summative assessments, not only eliminate teacher grading time, they eliminate wait time for students to receive feedback. Immediate feedback is more engaging and meaningful.
2. Host Live Chats
I am currently enrolled in a fully online doctoral program at a respected private institution, and I can tell you that live chats with live feedback from my professor and helpful comments from my classmates are one of the greatest aspects of my virtual classroom experience. Live chats go beyond the standard one-way video message or lecture to real-time interaction and peer feedback.
3. Share Videos
Video lectures and other video materials—when delivered on a regular basis—can add some much needed personality and warmth to an online course. Online learning can, at its worst, be text-heavy, stilted, and impersonal. Video prompts and lesson-complementary video materials can increase engagement and participation.
4. Offer Interactive Lessons
Carleton College provides several examples of individual interactive lesson activities, including viewing animations with discussion components or taking part in virtual classroom activities, such as virtual radiometric dating. Interactive lessons go beyond pushing or simply presenting material to actively doing the things you want students to know, learn, and be able to do.
Live Large, Think Personal
The key for large school districts is to use virtual environments to make the learning as personal as possible, and to connect students, teachers, and communities across neighborhood school lines.
Think about it—the possibilities are endless: Through virtual classrooms, all the high schools in a large district can collaborate on a local history project for social studies class. All the middle schools could study a local ecology and conservation issue and present their findings to one another and local experts, comparing and contrasting the unique features and challenges of their selected problems. You and your teachers are limited only by the boundaries of what you view as possible.
Now that you learned about the advantages of virtual classrooms, what are your thoughts on incorporating one into your classroom in the future? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology