Nowadays virtual classrooms are used everywhere due to the wide-scale implementation of online classrooms and digital transformation technologies. The recent covid pandemic has converted almost all the offline classrooms to virtual classrooms.
The virtual classroom helped the educators and learners community across the world to adapt to the challenging conditions of the pandemic. Students and teachers learned and taught from the comfort of their homes using different virtual classroom technologies.
In this article, we will look at the proper definition of a virtual classroom and the different advantages of implementing virtual classroom technologies in the education ecosystem. We will also review the must-have features in a virtual classroom and the tips for selecting and implementing a virtual classroom tool for your institution. The article will also inspect some of the drawbacks associated while implementing virtual classroom technologies in the education ecosystem.
What is Virtual Classroom?
Before defining the virtual classroom, we have to understand the term “Virtual Learning Environment”. A virtual learning environment is a web-based platform that provides the learning contents in a structured way similar to how it is available from normal classroom learning. The course content will be available in the form of topics structured like a textbook. The resources to various topics will be available linked to the associated topic. There will be also facilities for teacher-student and student-student interaction along with learning.
A virtual classroom is a VLE(Virtual Learning Environment) that facilitates live interaction between teachers and learners. Once you understand this definition you can separately identify virtual classroom technologies from other e-learning tools like LMS(Learning Management System) and Institute ERPs(Enterprise Resource Planning Software).
Top 8 Advantages of Virtual Classrooms over Physical Classrooms
1. Real-time interaction
Virtual classroom software technology facilitates real-time interaction between teachers and learners. This is achieved using the video conferencing feature available in the tool. Along with the video conferencing solution, there will be a group chat feature that allows instant feedback to teachers and doubt clearance on the topic being taught. The real-time interaction available in the virtual classroom solutions can match up to the physical classrooms in some perspectives and can provide more communication channels between learners and teachers.
The virtual classrooms have the ability to scale from 1 or 10 learners to hundreds of learners instantly. It is difficult to accommodate hundreds of learners in one physical classroom and track each learner’s behavior. Through virtual classroom technology, this can be achieved. Scalability is also about the technological scalability of how the software will be able to handle the sudden increase in load while there are many users participating in the learning process using video streaming and real-time chat. There are tools that can also provide real-time online examinations for thousands of students.
Virtual classroom solutions are available anywhere anytime by making use of the ubiquitous internet and cloud hosting solutions. This ubiquitous availability of virtual classroom solutions helps in making education more democratic as it can reach many locations across the globe where the availability of qualified teachers is less than required.
The anywhere-anytime availability of virtual classrooms is also enhanced by the accessibility through multiple devices. Students can participate in the virtual classrooms from their mobile phones or any other devices they prefer that the software supports. Installations and upgrades happen instantly and the users do not have to worry about any offline support.
5. Asynchronous discussions with classmates
Even though the major property of a virtual classroom is its synchronous nature, the discussions and course progress can happen asynchronously due to the 24/7 availability of the virtual classroom. Students can ask questions anytime and other learners or teachers can answer them after one or two days. The students who asked the question will get an instant alert when the answer is posted.
6. Personalized learning
The virtual classroom solutions can provide more personalized learning with the use of technology. Machine learning or AI(Artificial Intelligence) can study the unique learning habits of each student and can optimize the learning process to match their requirements. This makes the learning process more personalized. Even without ML and AI, there are various personalization elements available in virtual classroom solutions like the configurability and customization from learners’ and teachers’ side.
7. Trackability with learning analytics
Since the virtual classroom solutions are completely digital, all the data associated with an individual learner is trackable and can be used to produced various reports that can assist the teacher and leadership team in assessing the learning behavior and capacity of each student. The reports can also throw light into the group performance of a class as well as the teacher’s teaching methods.
8. Cost advantages
The virtual classroom solutions also provide cost benefits to the institution’s leadership when compared with physical classrooms. Managing physical classrooms are costly and when compared with the license pricing and annual maintenance charges of virtual classrooms, physical classrooms are found to be way costlier than virtual classrooms. Virtual classrooms carry their own disadvantages when compared with physical classrooms which are explained in another section of this article.
Must-have Features of Effective Virtual Classrooms
1. Video conferencing
Video conferencing allows the teachers and learners to participate in the process of learning from anywhere around the globe. The virtual classroom participation is ensured through the video conferencing feature provided by the solution. Video conferencing is different from recorded lecture videos. A high-quality video conference is a must to ensure a successful virtual classroom.
2. Digital white-boards
The digital whiteboard helps the teacher to present the topics covered in each video conference. The whiteboard can be used in multiple ways and provides collaboration functionality to allow learners to also use the whiteboard when required. The whiteboard functionality facilitates their replication class board used while teaching in physical classrooms.
Device compatibility ensures the virtual classroom software can run on multiple devices. The learners will be using different devices like Android mobile phone, iPhone, desktop pc or laptop. The virtual classroom must be able to run without any problems on the web browsers on desktop pc and laptops. Also, the software provider must have apps available for Android and iPhone.
4. Security & Privacy
All virtual classroom software solutions must be highly secure and provide the best standards in privacy as it handles the data of learners and educational institutions. Most of the virtual classroom software solutions provide end-to-end encryptions to ensure security and privacy. The responsibility of using the software securely also belongs to the individual users who must follow the best practices for using web-based software.
5. Group chats
The real-time teaching and learning experience of virtual classrooms is achieved through the availability of group chat along with video conferencing. The group chat allows for one to one chat as well as one to many conversations.
6. Recorded sessions
The online sessions of each day will be available as recorded videos for all the participants. This will be extremely helpful to those who did not attend the class on that specific day as well as for all the learners as future reference material.
7. Cloud storage & backup
The virtual classroom software tool must also have regular backups and cloud storage of the content generated during each class. This will be extremely helpful in case of any data loss happening due to an error from the user’s side. Considering the limitations of technical knowledge of most of the users from the education side, this is highly probable.
Few Drawbacks of Virtual Classrooms
- The disconnect between teachers and students
There were many studies conducted to understand the effectiveness of virtual classrooms when compared with physical classrooms. It was found that in virtual classrooms, there is a serious disconnect forming between teachers and students as the learning progresses. This is happening because of the absence of physical presence and other activities that happen inside a physical classroom along with teaching and learning.
- The disconnect among classmates
The disconnect explained above is also found to be forming between students. In virtual classrooms, there is very little interaction between students. In physical classrooms, the interaction between students happens once the learning is over. Also in virtual classrooms, the students are discussing only learning-related matters and all their friendship networks remain outside the co-learners in the classroom.
- Limitations in computer literacy skills of learners
Even though the benefits of virtual classrooms are many, the users must know how to operate the virtual classroom software effectively. This seems to be an easy task while thinking from the point of view of computer experts. But in most educational institutions, the teachers may not be trained to operate a virtual classroom to its full potential. Even if trained, it can take years for them to understand all the different functionality available in the software tool.
- Limitations in technology access
Another challenge with the wide-scale implementation of virtual classrooms is the limitations in technology access in different locations of the world. There are many locations where quality internet access is limited even today. Even if high-speed internet is available, its quality might be unpredictable. Similar is the case with the availability of quality hardware. Not all learners will have access to quality laptops or desktops.
- Limitations in power backup availability
Even in 2021, there are places in the world where there are limitations in electricity availability even while high-speed internet is available. So for many students, it will be difficult to enjoy the full benefits of a virtual classroom as the major feature of a virtual classroom is its real-time teaching and collaboration. Without a proper power supply, the students will be forced to access the recorded lectures at a later time.
How to Select the Best Virtual Classroom for your Institution?
Since there are plenty of virtual classroom software solutions available in the market, you can use the following steps to select the best solution that matches your institution’s unique requirement.
1. Market Research:
Study the virtual classroom software solutions used by other institutions in your network. Different institutions will be using different virtual classroom software solutions and if you study closely, there will be some trends you can observe in the usage. If you are a higher education institution, do not go with a software tool used by K12 institutions. Even if you liked the features, ensure that the software is compatible with the needs of a higher education institution.
2. Integration With Existing ERP Software:
Integrating with ERP or Campus Management Software. A virtual classroom software is different from an ERP solution. Your institution might be already running ERP software. So when you are going for a virtual classroom software solution you must ensure that it is integrable with the existing ERP solution. This is very important as all of your learner’s and teachers’ data will be already uploaded in the ERP software and the students and teachers will be already good users of the ERP software. You must check with the ERP vendor and the virtual classroom vendor to ensure the interoperability of both software. Fedena ERP software is already integrated with multiple virtual classroom solutions and works effectively for both K12 institutions and higher educational institutions.
3. Demo Availability:
Once you have shortlisted the solutions, it is time to get a detailed demo of each solution. You can include teachers and some students in the demo process to understand how they perceive the new solution. Once the demos are over, you can create a TCO plan.
4. Total Cost of Ownership:
A TCO(Total Cost of Ownership) plan covers all the possible costs associated while buying and using the virtual classroom software solution for 3 to 5 years. This includes all license fees and AMC fees(if any) to be paid to the vendor and other indirect costs that can occur in this time period. A TCO will be helpful to create and manage a budget for the solution.
In this article, we have seen the definition of a virtual classroom and the must have features required in a virtual classroom software tool. Also discussed the various advantages and the demerits. If you are looking for a virtual classroom software solution for your educational institution and want to integrate it with school management software, contact us today for a free consultation.
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