Learning, as we know it, is constantly changing and so is its mode of delivery. In a classroom setting, close interaction helps increase attentiveness and aids in supervision when needed. Distance learning or virtual learning has become the latest evolution to learning solutions. Virtual learning creates a space for classes to meet online when they cannot meet in person. But just because you're not meeting in person doesn't mean that you can't make it feel like a classroom.
The setting has changed, not the purpose.
Students and teachers can create a real connection and classroom setting through virtual classrooms. Overcoming not-so-physical barriers to create this connection just takes little dedication, targeted problem-solving, and creative thinking. The following are some of the things you can do to make virtual learning feel more like a classroom.
Creating an environment in which your students feel comfortable and heard will increase their engagement. You can do this by giving each of them a chance to participate in class just as you would if they were in a traditional classroom. Introducing icebreakers makes the environment less formal and they will interact more and get used to talking through the telecommunication platform.
Another way to increase engagement is by introducing rewards. The students will be motivated to take up tasks and participate more in the virtual class. If you are reading a book together, you can have each class member read a section of the book. That way, you'll be able to get each student to speak up.
There may be a disconnect between you and your students due to the physical distance between you. To close this gap, you need to connect with them. Effective communication is one way of doing this. It could be helpful for you to set up one-on-one sessions with your students. This way, you can interact more with them and get to know what they are struggling with. If they are younger, a session with their parents or guardians will help them understand how they can best support them and get them involved in their school life.
By linking with them virtually, you will create a real connection with your students and look forward to the online class sessions. Be sure to allow the students to ask for clarification on any issue that they may not understand. With good communication, you will be on the same page and create a sense of togetherness while apart from each other.
In our digital age, you have a lot of software and technology options. Use the best tools for your class to make the learning experience the best possible one. You can venture into virtual and augmented reality options that will make the virtual learning experience feel as real as can be. Google has plenty of VR options, like Google Earth VR, to spice up your lessons.
For activities that students need to handle practically (but cannot do because you can't be in a classroom together) get creative, and create simulations. By having the students undergo the simulations, the experience will feel as real as it can be.
As a teacher, as you know, you are in charge of the class and it's up to you to lead the day. Make it a point to set the mood for the class right away. Be firm but gentle, letting students know that the virtual lessons are as real as the in-person lessons they are more familiar with. You can always log onto the video session minutes before the actual start time to usher students into the class.
To help your students get the concept and context of the lesson's discussions, you should give them clear explanations and examples. To make the examples clear, you can provide case studies and provide charts, graphs, and infographics. Virtual learning opens up the possibilities for visual and multimedia support to discussions. Capture the students' attention and do not stick to the usual PowerPoint presentations.
A simple walkthrough of the lesson may work in a classroom, but online, bring something flashier to the table. Use software like Visme to create charts; share YouTube videos to give historical context. If you are working with younger kids, encourage a session on an educational game site like ABCya! to reinforce what you taught that day. But if you do use a slideshow, before you continue to a different slide or presentation, ensure that all students have understood what you are explaining. Give some space for a Q&A session.
Since students are at home and facing different distractions, you will have to keep them alert and attentive. This is probably going to be one of the more difficult challenges to overcome. When you're in a classroom, students' distractions are limited to classroom distractions. Now, they have a home environment, social media, and all the other distractions in their heads to deal with.
In a way, though, how is this different from being in a classroom?
The best way to increase your students' attentiveness is to help them grasp and relate to the day's lesson. Use social media to your advantage. If they're going to be on it anyway, might as well! Tell them to find and contribute a photo example of a topic or create a Twitter hashtag and engage in it. Engage them with quick-fire sessions. By asking them questions that they need to respond to within the shortest time possible, they will have to be alert and engaged. You can also ask some questions that may catch them off-guard to check if they are listening to you.
While we know that virtual learning may not replace classroom learning in sentiment, you can make virtual learning just as fun and effective. Apply the tips we discussed above and you may find that you see a shift towards a more familiar classroom feel. And remember: the class may be virtual, but it can feel real to the students through your effort.