How to Create a Virtual Classroom

Setting up a virtual classroom involves considering what technology to use, choosing the best content, and working on presentation.
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A virtual classroom provides the same opportunities for teaching and learning as a physical, conventional classroom surrounded by walls, but is Internet-based. Students or participants can "enter" the virtual classroom from various geographical locations and time zones, and can participate in discussions. An online class can be entirely asynchronous, meaning that learners are participating at different times and when convenient. It can also include synchronous or "real time" meeting times. Teachers and trainers preparing virtual instruction need to decide on approaches to technology, content and moderating.

1 Technical Considerations

The first technical consideration is the choice of a technology platform in which the course will be delivered. Commonly used platforms in higher education include Blackboard, Moodle, eCollege and Angel. Platforms are frequently also referred to as learning management systems, or LMSs. LMS features vary, and usually include automated grading, password protection, and the ability to share and upload various types of content. It will be important for the facilitator to practice using the features and become confident and skilled in using any audio, video camera, chat, polling and discussion features effectively.

2 Course and Content Design

The educator or trainer next needs to consider the audience, and analyze who the students are and what they need to learn about the subject. Defining any prerequisites that participants should already have prior to this course or training is essential. The learning objectives of the course and of each session or module should be made clear to students, and all live lectures and course discussions should facilitate the learning objectives. The material for presentation should be made as relevant, organized and clear as possible. Analogies and visual components such as diagrams and videos will help to reinforce important concepts. Placing the most important concepts up front is key.

3 Effective Facilitation

An online instructor's first order of business upon entering the virtual classroom is to make all participants feel welcome and included. Soliciting regular interaction from all class members is crucial. This is important in both asynchronous and synchronous discussions, but incorporating audience responses into a real-time lecture or presentation is a best practice for building good communication and learning. For real-time presentations, it also helps to carefully consider which, if any, participants need to have audio or web camera access. Depending on the capabilities of the platform, participants can type their comments into a chat box or have audio capability.

4 Incorporating Fun

Although a lot of pricey and sophisticated training content is available, it's crucial to consider the learning goals for the course. Training that is fun can be very effective or a complete waste of time, depending on how well it aligns with course goals. Instructionally sound and well-placed simulations of real-world work scenarios, for example, can be very effective tools in meeting the learning goals of a virtual class. A virtual course instructor or builder serious about including advanced media such as games or simulations should team up with an experienced instructional designer to ensure that learning goals are well matched to media resources chosen.

Susie Zappia teaches humanities and research and writing courses online for several colleges. Her research interests include counterculture literature of the 1960 and instructional design for online courses and she enjoys writing about literature, art and instructional design. She holds a Master of Arts in humanities from California State University, Dominguez Hills and a Master of Science in instructional design from Capella University.