Transitioning to the virtual classroom

Career & Education

Transitioning to the virtual classroom

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, April 12, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of most educational institutions across the globe. This drastic and unprecedented world event has accelerated the development of the virtual classroom in countries such as ours.

Virtual instruction is defined by Purdue University as a “course taught either solely online or when components of face-to-face instruction are taught online”. It is intended to be a digital replica of a traditional classroom. The medium is typically a video conferencing application which allows multiple users to be connected at the same time through the Internet.

It is true that online classrooms had been gaining popularity before COVID-19 and that with the rising tide of technology, it is certainly the next step. But it is expected that the virtual classroom in Jamaica will become the norm even after the pandemic has passed.

But the transition, due in part to the suddenness with which the new environment has been thrust on us, has not necessarily been smooth. The challenges are diverse and are not only experienced by students and parents, but by institutions and instructors as well.

One of the biggest obstacles to online learning is Internet access and availability of devices from which to view and participate in these classes. The schools themselves must also must have the technology and equipment available so that the teachers can deliver information virtually.

As for educators, particularly those less acquainted with techonology, the changeover to remote learning has been an education in itself. Driving student engagement and focused learning, therefore, will not be a walk in the park, and ensuring equanimity among students will be an area of concern.

That being said, the future is here, so we'd better get with it by learning how to use the technologies so that our teaching and learning can be optimised.

Here are a few strategies that can help make the transition easier:

• Familiarise yourself with the specific platform your institution has decided to use. If there are options, even better. Do trial runs and decide which is best for you.

• Find your 'chat' feature inside your learning platform. It helps to keep students engaged, clarifies spelling etc. Your students can also use this feature to ask questions and seek clarification.

• You may want to use the 'record' feature as well, which will allow students to access the class at another time if they were unable to attend at the specified time. It would also be useful for review.

• At the beginning of a class, be sure to inform students of the virtual tools, such as the hand raise option, that you would like them to use.

• Greet each participant by name as they enter your online classroom. This adds a personal touch to the space and helps individuals feel connected to you. If there are latecomers, a quick hello through the chat feature can be used.

• Keep your voice conversational and engaging. Imagine that you are speaking to someone personally. This will help you to keep your voice relaxed and natural.

• Do not forget the use of facial expressions and hand gestures, which are important features of good communication. Your webcam is vital! Try to look into your camera, rather than the screen, when you speak. This helps with eye contact.

• Think about what students see behind you. The view behind you should be uncluttered, with no distractions.

• Share your screen or use a virtual whiteboard when instruction includes calculations, formulae, concept mapping, flow charts, maps or images.

• Create interactive learning activities that encourage active participation from your students.

• Use visuals to add interest and to offer variation for different learning styles.

As the virtual classroom continues to expand, we have no choice but to embrace this paradigm shift. It takes time and the courage to just do it. Once you have actually done it, you will find that the task is not as scary as you may have thought.

I expect to see innovation and creativity grow as learners and instructors become increasingly comfortable with the virtual classroom.

Dr Karla Hylton is a university lecturer and author. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or .

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