MET:Virtual Live Classroom (VLC) for Culturally Diverse Learners
Page authored by Terri Harris - February 2011
Virtual live classroom (VLC) refers to an online or virtual classroom, where a teacher interacts with students in real time. Virtual live classroom is one of several educational technologies , some of which are synchronous  such as VLC, while others are asynchronous. In some cases, VLC is combined with other forms of eLearning to produce a blended or mixed delivery  offering that can contribute asynchronous methodologies and tools such as job aids, site-based local mentors, and a playback session of the LVC that could be viewed on demand. Whatever the approach chosen, the driving intention behind VLC is to create a virtual collaborative learning environment meant to optimize the learning process.
Some of the characteristics and challenges of the virtual delivery environment
Some of the positive characteristics of the VLC delivery environment are that it:
- Provides a significant cost savings as it eliminates the need to travel to attend class
- Makes the subject experts accessible to a wider audience irrespective of geographical boundaries
- Makes subject expertise available in real time
- Sessions can be recorded and then the recordings made available as part of a virtual library
- Allows students to learn at their own pace
- Requires the following minimal technology on the student end: Internet connection, computer, and headset with microphone
- Allows live audio dialog while sharing slides, viewing a software application, surfing the Internet, working in virtual breakout rooms, conducting polls, conducting whiteboard activities, conduction chat activities, as well as taking assessments
Despite all these advantages, there are a number of challenges posed by the VLC environment. Many of these challenges stem from the fact that since the instructor is not in the same physical room as the learners, the instructor is not able to read and interpret learner body language in order to determine if learners are confused, bored, or engaged. Challenges can also result from issues with the web and audio technologies used to host the VLC sessions. Many of these challenges can be mitigated by having instructors and students prepare/test their machines prior to class time, and by limiting class size to a number of students that the instructor can reasonably assist at one time. Finally, expert facilitation on the part of the instructor is probably the largest indicator for success in the VLC setting.
Learning needs of culturally diverse audiences
Micronesia Project- a brief case study
Both the utility and limitations of the VLC tools for culturally diverse audiences can be better understood by considering a case study. In his article Distance Learning in Micronesia: Participants’ Experience in a Virtual Classroom Using Synchronous Technologies, Kavita Rao summarized findings from a study that examined a reading course for K-8 teachers offered via distance learning technologies as a part of a professional development program to teachers on two islands (Pohnpei and Ebeye ) in Micronesia.
This study was part of an effort by Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) – A Hawaii-based organization that implements educational initiatives in Micronesia, in collaboration with Park University. It is important to note that Micronesia includes inhabitants that live on more than 607 islands, scanning more than 3 million square miles of ocean. Because of the geographic distribution of inhabitants, Rao concluded that the findings derived from the study about developing and delivering courses in the Micronesia island settings may hold insights applicable to remote, rural, and indigenous settings in other parts of the world.
The study sought answers to the following two questions:
- How can a virtual class environment, combining synchronous and asynchronous distance learning technologies, be structured to address the learning styles, preferences, and needs of course participants in Micronesia?
- What factors that pose challenges and foster success for participants should course developers take into account when designing distance learning courses for Micronesia?
Micronesia Project- lessons learned
The professors who designed and taught the course concluded that real-time communication with the instructors was critical to the success of the class. The professors also concluded that web-based real time interaction was superior to audio only interaction with the students. The instructors/researchers of the project went on to agree that distance education can be as effective as traditional instruction, and that although additional advance planning is required in order to make the classes a success, teaching a web-based course can be rewarding to the instructors delivering it.
The Micronesia and other studies hightlights the following elements as being key to implementing VLC for culturally diverse audiences:
- Synchronous learning opportunities – A regular, possibly weekly opportunity to interact with the instructor, and the VLC classroom and learning management system of choice is important.
- Technology support – On-site facilitators can be a vital component for the participants.
- Varied learning formats – Participants often benefit from both independent and the group work.
- Connecting to practice - Participants experience greater satisfaction when their learning is immediately applicable to their work in the classroom.
- Grading – Often participants preference is that they be graded on independent work, but not on group work since they could be more accountable for their individual work.
- Setting course expectations - While clear course expectations should be set in the class syllabus, instructors need to remain flexible to accommodate some of the unexpected technological issues that can occur.
- Sociocultural differences - It is important that instructors be prepared to accommodate sociocultural differences, while not making generalizations across communities.
- Language of instruction - Instructors should be aware of participants' varying levels of proficiency in the course language when choosing course reading material and grading assignments.
- Assessing computer access and skill level – A pre-class survey is a useful tool for making this.
Matching VLC tools with learner needs
In his paper Towards a Theory of Online Learning, Terry Anderson suggests that there are a number of possible interactivities that can be used to enrich learning, and that the form used will be dependent on factors such as cost learning objectives, as well as the technologies and time available to complete the interaction. He suggests that properly planned, the effectiveness of the learning experience will not be impacted but the specific interaction chosen as long as the design is solid. The combination of tools selected from the available VLC classroom tools provides a powerful affordance to culturally diverse groups since class content and delivery style can be modified to best suit specific needs.
When implementing a virtual live classroom, there are several interactive components that are expected to be present in the VLC delivery tool. They include, but are not limited to the following:
- Participant list
- Application sharing capability
- Duplex audio
- Shared web browser
- One-way video
- Text chat
- Polling/Interaction tool
- Recording capability
- Ease of use
Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University.
Baxendale, S. 2005. Research-based distance learning services in the northern Pacific. In Encyclopedia of distance learning, Volume 4, ed. C. Howard, P. L. Rogers, J. Boettcher, G. A. Berg, L. Justice, and K. Schenk, 1558-1563. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Reference.
Bentley, P. H., M. V. Tinney, and B. H. Chia. 2005. Intercultural internet-based learning: Know your audience and what it values. Educational Technology Research & Development 53 (2): 117-127.
Rao, K. 2007. Distance learning in Micronesia: Participants' Experiences in a Virtual Classroom Using Synchronous Technologies. Innovate 4 (1).
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