Students in a regular classroom have textbooks. Students in a virtual class have content. In both instances they read and digest information for the course. All of the students have assignments, projects, quizzes and tests. Both classes have a teacher who grades assignments, projects, quizzes and tests and give written feedback. Here is where the similarities reach a critical point from which they each diverge. This divergence is critical to the success of the virtual class.
What are some of the things a face to face teachers does? She greets the class everyday as they walk into the classroom and find their desks. The return her greeting. They can all look around and see who is having a good day and who is not. They can use their voices, facial expressions and body language to interact, maybe to create a bridge with the one who is not on top of the world. Teacher and students can discuss what is important and continue to see how everyone else looks and respond accordingly.
This scenario does not happen everyday in the virtual setting, and the teacher is charged with the responsibility of finding modes of communication to create a learning environment to meet the communication needs that exist between teacher and learners. One of the great things that can happen is that students who tune out in the face to face classroom, often because of shyness or insecurity, can find a way to participate. There is a certain anonymity in virtual learning which can help some students open up.
Now, with a good synchronous meeting product, the only real missing item is the teacher and students being physically in the same place. Using web cameras the participants can see each other. Audio, video, whiteboard use, sharing documents, sharing desktops and applications, using the chatbox, sharing presentations…all of these are possible in a synchronous meeting. In a rich product the students can use all of these tools, as well as the teacher.
The session can be recorded for review or to be viewed by students who were not able to attend. A wisely planned synchronous session can offer bridges among the participants to provide a productive learning environment. Synchronous meetings can be use by the teacher to work with one student, a group or the entire class. They are essential in the virtual class.