Virtual Classroom Management: 4 Strategies to Address Overcrowding in Online Class Sessions
Overcrowding in the Virtual Classroom
Every state and local school district has had to reinvent education delivery models during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has brought about the most extensive use of online learning management systems and other virtual platforms by schools in the nation’s history. But with so many families electing to pursue online options, a persistent problem in physical classrooms—overcrowding— has now become an issue in some virtual classrooms, as well.
In Arizona, for example, some virtual classrooms are hosting more than 50, or even 60 or 70, students at a time. Ostensibly this is because larger classes can be supported in a virtual environment more easily than in a brick and mortar setting. But it sure doesn’t make things easier for students and teachers! Quite the opposite. So, what to do? Proactive and engaging virtual classroom management may be the best (or, at present, the only) way to survive this dramatic shift. Here are a few strategies you can implement to make the best of a tough situation.
1. Automate online classroom routines.
In the brick and mortar classroom space, a master teacher reliably creates daily routines that are carried out seamlessly by students. Better yet, the teacher and the students develop many of those routines and procedures collaboratively, building the well-oiled machine together. For example, while the master teacher greets students at the door and focuses on building the relationships social emotional experts say are so critical for student success, the class begins immediately and operates smoothly because the objective(s) and agenda for the day are posted, students know exactly where to turn in work and/or locate materials from when they were absent, they have an assigned workspace, and more.
In an online class, and especially in an overcrowded one, routines and procedures take on heightened importance. Instead of mass chaos and chatter as everyone is joining a videoconference, what if you were able to spend your time greeting students and building relationships as they followed a daily routine you had established in partnership with them—checking the learning management system (LMS) for the day’s objective(s)/agenda, completing an introductory activity or discussion question, and other routines, just like in the physical classroom? The more you automate these routines in conjunction with your students, the less crowded and chaotic your online classroom will feel.
2. Spin those plates—keep students working.
Just like in an overcrowded physical classroom, you have to keep students busy and engaged. You can remain learning objective-focused while planning a bevy of activities to keep students active and engaged in the lesson.
For example, do you plan bell work in which students automatically engage when they enter your classroom? Apply the same strategy online. Let’s say you’re opening a lesson on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. The bell work question that students should think about, respond to, and respond to at least two of their peers about could be: “Is revenge justified?” That’s a simple, direct, yet deeply engaging question that would help to immediately focus even the largest class on the ideas and themes for the day—and all you had to do was tee it up for them as a discussion in your learning management system and let them run with it.
3. Break out of the mold.
Synchronous online direct instruction is tough. It’s even tougher to have meaningful conversations in a whole-class format when you’re trying to manage the attendance and participation of an overcrowded online environment. One solution may be to break up your large online classes into smaller working groups by utilizing breakout rooms.
Many video conferencing software programs now give you the ability to create breakout, or small group, rooms. It may take an initial investment of time to set up the rooms, demonstrate for students how they work, and practice using them, but once all that is done, you’ll be ready to reap the rewards.
Just like when you circulate around the room to listen to student conversations, ask follow-up questions, and provide more personalized assistance in smaller groups in the traditional classroom, breakout rooms allow you to transport students from an overcrowded online space where they may not feel comfortable participating (or have a chance to participate at all) to smaller groups that you can join, monitor, and use to provide increased one-on-one time.
4. Time is on your side.
Depending on how your online classroom is structured by school and/or district policy, you may be able to be flexible about how you use your scheduled online classroom time, which may help alleviate problems caused by online classroom overcrowding.
Are you on a block schedule? If so, you might have time to meet with different groups of students via video conference at different times during the lesson, using the LMS as the asynchronous hub of most learning activities, and your video conference sessions as one of the spokes—essentially a 21st-century station-based activity model.
Even if you aren’t on a block schedule, you might be able to modify a flipped classroom approach to meet your needs as well as the needs of your students. Let’s say as part of a lesson on the Harlem Renaissance, students have pre-recorded themselves reading a poem, part of a short story, or analyzing a work of art from the time period. Perhaps they used a tool like FlipGrid where they can then engage in a video discussion about the content. You have also flipped the lesson by providing a pre-recorded presentation on the importance and enduring legacy of the Harlem Renaissance on American culture and civil rights. You are then free to spend your time conferencing with individual students, commenting on student videos, and posing thoughtful questions for discussion and a digital exit ticket assignment. Thinking asynchronously and using time purposefully can help you triumph over the daunting numbers game of the overcrowded online classroom.
Reconceptualize the Classroom
The great temptation for school districts, facing stretched budgets and unable to use their traditional facilities, is to use the existence of technology to justify the overcrowding of online classrooms during the pandemic. But overcrowded online classrooms are just as challenging— or more so— than overcrowded brick and mortar settings. You’ll have to reconceptualize what the classroom can and should look like. Using your learning management system as the hub, you’ll need to reconceptualize your role, as well. By embracing your role as coach and guide and using the best practices that made you a veteran of the physical classroom space, you’ll get results in your online classroom as well.