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Selecting a Virtual Classroom System

The virtual classroom system is used to create a learning environment in cyberspace, enabling students and teachers to connect in a remote learning community through the Internet and to participate in a collaborative learning system. A virtual classroom system can take many forms, including a learning management system (LMS), which is a type of virtual classroom software that is used for managing, delivering, and tracking educational programs. LMS systems include features for managing educational or training records, dissemination of courses, online sharing, and collaboration. Simpler requirements may rely on basic presentation software and web conferencing.

A virtual classroom system in its simplest form is asynchronous, which means that two-way interaction is not incorporated. The asynchronous classroom simply provides a presentation that is sent from the instructor to the students. Although this model does not allow for real-time interaction, it does have the advantage of simplicity and low costs. It is best suited for environments where students may not be able to log in for a real-time session, or who may want to access learning modules at their own convenience.

A synchronous model of a virtual classroom system, on the other hand, allows for students and the instructor to interact in real-time, in a live virtual classroom. During the class session, students may be able to interact with the rest of the class via web conferencing, a phone bridge, or a chat facility.

Meeting the Needs of Students and Teachers

When selecting a virtual classroom system, one of the first and most important considerations is that of usability. Towards this end, most modern systems use a web-based delivery system where the recipients need only a web browser or a small, downloadable client. Usability for the instructor is a concern as well, and a virtual classroom system that provides for easy content creation, or integration with existing content creation tools with which the user is already familiar, is a major advantage.

Students taking advantage of distance learning do best when they have the same advantages as an on-premise classroom, and this can be achieved with many existing systems. Select a virtual classroom system that allows the student to take part in the class in real time and have easy access to resources and relevant documents. Promoting this level of interactivity allows the student to feel that they are a part of the classroom, as opposed to an ordinary bystander.

The Technology

A virtual classroom system can take many forms, and the extent of the technology will rely greatly on the needs of the classroom. At its simplest form, a virtual classroom system can be created with a simple web conferencing subscription. The live class can take place with a phone bridge for voice contact, as well as a series of simple PowerPoint presentations. More sophisticated virtual classroom systems may incorporate live video feeds as well. These may take the form of one-to-many, with the instructor sending videos out to all students, or even many-to-many, with video feeds incorporated from all participants.

The audio portion is also of great importance. Greater voice clarity is often achieved by integrating a phone bridge, rather than transmitting voice directly through the computer via an attached microphone. Keep in mind that even if the instructor has equipment and a connection that lends itself to quality voice over the computer, other participants may be connecting on a slower uplink, and voice transmission may be spotty.

In general, when selecting a virtual classroom system, the starting point is a needs analysis, followed by a comparison of systems and discussion of price. The technology is widely available to meet whatever virtual classroom needs you may have.