MET:Virtual Classroom as an Educational Tool
Authored by Jessica Hall (2013)
A Virtual Classroom is an interactive website that includes Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, calendars and discussion boards. Many Web 2.0 tools have functions that benefit digital literacy and education in general. For the purpose of this wiki, the term "Virtual Class" will describe a website that is used in combination with face-to-face classroom learning.
Virtual Classroom Introduction
Web 2.0 tools provide different opportunities for teachers to personalize their instruction. The most common tools available include: blogs, wikis, social networking and photo and video sharing (Tunks, 2012). Outside of the classroom, students already use Web 2.0 tools to create and add to social networks. The Virtual Classroom parallels this outside activity by asking students to participate in asynchronous learning communities. These online learning communities, as defined by Tunks (2012), “include a sense of trust, an obligation to the group, and a belief that the mutual goals can best be met through cooperation.”
Pedagogical Implications for Online Learning
New technologies impose more and more pedagogical pressures on today’s teachers. This shift in education relates to the fact that students need to be conversant with new digital practices to contribute to the global economy. Educators are faced with the task of making connections between students, social networks and modern education (Casey & Evans, 2011). Casey & Evans (2011) state that online classrooms generate chaotic patterns in communication that resemble students’ interactions with the outside world. Although educators are apprehensive of non-linear thinking, online communication encourages active participation from today’s students. In December 2010, the Premier’s Technology Council of BC issued a report that proposed a systematic plan for public education in the 21st century. The report generated in response to the current emphasis on the accessibility of information. The plan suggested the need for transformations in traditional schooling practices in order to bring BC up to speed with today’s “knowledge-based” society (Government of British Columbia, 2010). The plan’s vision encompassed pedagogical changes in how teachers teach and learners learn. These changes to public school pedagogy are harnessed by a teachers’ ability to use technology as a tool for learning, discovery, assessment and customizing learning environments. Access to educational information on the World Wide Web demands more flexibility in the provincial curriculum and overall educational path for 21st century students. Students need to be placed in learning situations that provide a mixture of face-to-face classroom and online interactions. According to the Premier’s Technology Council (Government of British Columbia, 2010), a partnership between face-to-face and online learning will foster lifelong learners.
Social Implications for Virtual Classrooms
Social networks motivate students to become members of online communities and to make contributions to collective knowledge. Virtual Classrooms have the ability to motivate students by following similar forms of networking communication. As mentioned by Hiltz & Wellman (1997), asynchronous learning networks “enable people with shared interests to form and sustain relationships” while “provid[ing] emotional support and sociability as well as information…” (p. 1). Virtual Classrooms help students avoid information overload by engaging in shared tasks that are mediated by new and innovative technology.
Educational uses for Virtual Classrooms
To date, the most innovative platform for developing a Virtual Classroom is the Blackboard™ system. Blackboard™ has the most comprehensive list of educational tools available on the Blackboard Learn™ platform. Blackboard™ aims to support educational institutions improve their learning outcomes by developing collaborative opportunities that engage students.
Educators have an important role in maintaining the success of a virtual learning environment. Consistent communication with students, sharing resources and feedback on the subject area and cultivating a sense of community are among the most important ways that educators can demonstrate their presence on a Virtual Classroom. Educators also take on the role of customizing course material to improve educational outcomes and creating authentic learning experiences (McBride, 2012).
Examples of Virtual Classrooms
“So much of their lives are lived online, how they socialize and interact with their world. And yet when they come to school, they are largely disconnected from that world. What we want to do is to use technology to bridge that gap; to meet students where they ‘live’ and to bring a lot of that activity into the classroom.”
- - Gary Kern, Director of Instruction - Technology and Innovation, West Vancouver School District.
The West Vancouver School District 45, a district consisting of fourteen elementary schools and three secondary schools is small but certainly interested in technology and innovation. The district has taken on a Collaborative Learning Platform (CPL), in an effort to show commitment to technology integration in the classroom. The current CPL is based off of SharePoint, a platform that is widely used in the business world and has undergone major reconfigurations in order to parallel the SD45’s educational vision. The CPL is said to satisfy District goals for providing customized learning by providing opportunities for cross-curricular learning. The CPL presents several educational features that encourage students to connect with their classmates and develop a supportive learning community.
Online learning is centered on the educational features provided by the Virtual Classroom website. In order to maintain the security of students, West Vancouver’s Virtual Classrooms is presented in three viewing levels.
- Public view includes: a classroom calendar and an area to upload important documents, i.e. fieldtrip forms, spelling lists, etc…
- Password view includes: class pictures, a discussion board, a wiki, a student document area (linked to the CPL cloud) and an assignment ‘hand-in’ function.
- Teacher view includes: areas to assign student work and functions for monitoring, commenting, marking and handing back student work.
Students interact with their Virtual Classroom through an interface called the Student Dashboard. Similar to Facebook, the Student Dashboard provides a variety of social networking, as well as educational tools. The central feature of the Student Dashboard is the blog space where students can post blogs and write comments. In terms of educational features, students can view assignments, read teacher announcements and store their documents to the CPL cloud.
Benefits of the Student Dashboard
- Motivation to participate in group discussions
- Learning is less dependant on textbooks and more relevant to the outside world
- Customized learning based on the needs of the student
- Peer support and scaffolding
- Document management and online submission
- Decrease in photocopying and overall paper usage
- Student are accountable for submitting their work to the Virtual Classroom
- Increased communication and follow-up
- Explicit expectations and assessment procedures
Although the Virtual Classroom cannot replicate face-to-face learning, Web 2.0 tools do present some very promising learning experiences. The skills involved in learning Web 2.0 tools extend beyond the classroom setting. Web 2.0 applications have the ability to foster learning and collaboration on a global scale (Klamma et al., 2007).
How to build a Virtual Classroom Network
- Purchase a virtual learning environment (VLE)
- Explain the benefits to teachers
- Design professional development around web 2.0 tools
- Show your support for teachers in a variety of ways
- Share success stories from teachers who are integrating Virtual Classrooms
- Give teachers opportunities for customizing their Virtual Classrooms
- Target the ease of teacher administrative duties
- Modify tools consistently to provide teachers with a range of tools
- Provide open communication amongst teachers and students
- Outline guidelines using and participating in the Virtual Classroom
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Government of British Columbia. (2011). A Vision for 21st Century Education. Premier's Technology Council. Retrieved on March 6, 2013, from http://www.gov.bc.ca/premier/attachments/PTC_vision%20for_education.pdf
Hiltz, S.R. & B Wellman. (1997). Asynchronous Learning Networks as a Virtual Classroom. Communications of the ACM, 40(9). Retrieved March 5, 2013, from http://sorubank.ege.edu.tr/~bouo/DLUE/Chapter-01/Chapter-01-kaynaklar/Asynchronous%20learning%20networks%20as%20a%20virtual%20classroom.pdf
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McBride, H. (2012) Into the Virtual Frontier. Learning & Leading with Technology, 40(3). Retrieved March 9, 2013, from http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=4510eef2-ce5a-4467-89c4-55fdcae410f3%40sessionmgr14&hid=21
Tunks, Karyn W. (2012). An Introduction and Guide to Enhancing Online Instruction with Web 2.0. The Journal of Educators Online, 9(2). Retrieved March 7, 2013 from: http://www.thejeo.com/Archives/Volume9Number2/TunksPaper.pdf
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Forbes. (2011). How To Teach Kids 'Digital Literacy'? Build A Private Social Network Playground For Them. Information for the World's Business Leaders - Forbes.com. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/10/13/how-to-teach-kids-digital-literacy-build-a-private-social-network-playground-for-them/
West Vancouver School District 45 http://www.sd45.bc.ca