Virtual classrooms closely try to replicate the conventional ones, where face to face interactions between learners and the instructor make all the difference. And even though virtual classrooms have come close enough to their traditional counterparts in implementing a successful and rich learning experience, they are yet to equal them on counts of interaction and collaboration.
Communication in a virtual classroom
The technology put to use in a virtual classroom is sophisticated enough to provide for good communication and interaction among peers and instructor. But, there is an essential difference between achieving communication in a live classroom and a virtual one. Also the presence of communication in the virtual classroom cannot be completely denied. But, the interaction is rendered ineffective to an extent, by the fact that responses that are meant to be terse and precise, go haywire and turn into short speeches, thanks to the incessant urge of most of the teachers who like to lecture to a live class. Instructors simply tend to forget that the discussion in a virtual classroom needs to hold on to the learners attention, which might be lost by uninteresting, lengthy and vague responses. Lecturers need to understand that bragging to show their own knowledge wont, in any way, help students acquire it. Real time online discussions often tend to become boring lectures with the instructor taking lead in waxing eloquent about the subject rather than stimulating students to post comments in order to understand the depth of their comprehension of a particular subject.
Before jumpstarting a discussion, forum or an online session, it is necessary that the instructor is trained in the virtual environment etiquettes. Instructors should ideally go through other successfully conducted virtual classroom discussions, and given lessons on how to work as a team or how to read seminar papers and post fair comments on them.
Here are some guidelines that could be followed to improve upon the quality of communication and interaction existing in the virtual classroom.
Decide upon the value of the discussion before starting it. See how it could help you to assess learners and the learners to develop specific knowledge based skills. Check if the same skill development could be done better with other means. Dont start a discussion for the heck of it, and dont hesitate to drop it if you are not convinced of its advantages.
If you are convinced about the reasons for conducting the discussion, prepare the learners for it by advocating to them the benefits that it can bring to their learning.
Moderate the discussions and direct students who falter in keeping up with the rules and etiquette of the discussion. Let them understand and learn through their mistakes.
Let the learners know that their responses and comments in a discussion would be assessed. This will curtail them from being lengthy yet vague in their comments. Be clear about what you expect from the students during a discussion, and mention the minimum number of responses expected from each student during a discussion.
Let students advice on the topics they would like to discuss. This would not only aid in building a bond with individual learners, but will also allow you to start the discussion with reference to the query of a particular student over a topic, and promote other learners to ask questions.
Reaching a consensus about the rules and conventions to be followed during the course of the discussion is important. A personal interaction with the learners before embarking upon the online discussion is a good platform to discuss issues pertaining to this, such as the writing style, the extent of terseness, etc.
Remember that the onus of setting an example for the students lies upon you. Take the responsibility to initiate a discussion. Focus upon the clarity of thought and preciseness of text while posting a query to be answered or an issue to be discussed.
Start a new discussion in cases where a new topic comes up in the course of a discussion. Decide if the topic should be discussed in a new online discussion or can be blended with the ongoing discussion.
Look out for significant signs of study, skill development, and comprehension levels of the learners. Like are the comments supported by research? Do they evaluate questions before responding and commenting upon them? If you are satisfied with the performance of particular students, encourage them through appreciation.
Start promoting student initiated discussions when you find that the students are comfortable enough with the new environment. Form a group, a couple or let students individually conduct and lead debates based upon the topics of importance in a seminar conducted by you. This will increase the amount of active participation form them.
Unlike asynchronous communication, a virtual classroom setting presents a perfect opportunity to communicate and interact. Keeping this opportunity underutilized is letting go the advantages of the medium. Some steps to enhance the communication within the virtual classroom can absolutely revolutionize the way learners perceive online communication in particular, and learning in general.