Schools, universities, and corporations are taking advantage of new conferencing technologies to gain efficiencies and save money. Transitioning from the traditional to a virtual classroom has real, bottom-line benefits which save money and bring convenience to the student as well.
The virtual classroom, though similar in many ways to a physical classroom, is still a new and unfamiliar space. But with the addition of a few best practices and a careful transition, it can evolve into a rewarding experience for both teacher and student. Making this transition means the classroom instructor must recognize the fundamental differences between the traditional and virtual classroom. The most obvious difference is that the techniques a teacher usually employs to engage students in a physical classroom are no longer available, and the instructor must now rely more heavily on technology. The transition can effectively be made with interactive tools such as discussion boards, email, whiteboards, instant messaging, and web conferencing.
The goals of the course and the expectations of students need to remain the same after the transition to a virtual classroom. The virtual model does offer some conveniences, but the virtual class must not be seen as a lesser version of a physical class. Students in the virtual classroom must not feel that they are being “left out” of activities that would take place in a traditional classroom. The virtual course must therefore include the same type and frequency of assignments, the same level of discussion and participation, and the same educational goals.
It is important in the virtual classroom for the students to feel that the teachers are there for them, care about them and their concerns, and have the time and patience to respond to their questions and problems. In a normal classroom, the students are physically present and interact with the faculty, which helps in forging intellectual and personal bonds. In a virtual classroom, this must be done by using online tools to maintain the student-teacher connection.
When the virtual classroom was in its infancy, online classes were little more than static, one-way presentations where interaction was not possible, or at least, very limited. The virtual classrooms and course management systems of today have taken live online classes to a different level. Virtual classrooms now come close to the normal classroom experience, with interactive and collaborative activities that involve and engage the students. Live online classes should incorporate as many of the properties of a traditional classroom as possible, which would make the virtual classroom experience collaborative, interactive, and in real-time.