Distance Education

Virtual Classroom and Distance Learning: Bangladesh Perspective – 2

Distance learning is becoming popular; Image credit: Pixbay
Distance learning is becoming popular; Image credit: Pixbay
Aklima Sharmin
Written by Aklima Sharmin

The process of virtual classroom and virtual learning can be easily described by a figure. With the below figure we try to show how we can start work on the virtual classroom.

2.2.3 Characteristics of Virtual learning

The features of the virtual classroom promote interactivity, synchrony, usefulness and ease of use, and sense of community (Arbaugh, 2000a). These characteristics are explained within this distance learning context.

A. Interactivity: It is widely agreed upon that interaction must be designed into instructional programs and that it is a vital component of online learning (Northrup, 2002). Although different conceptions of interactivity exist, Northrup (2002) summarizes interaction as engagement in distance learning. In the virtual learning, students can interact with each other, with instructors, and online resources. Both instructors and students can act as facilitators and provide support, feedback, and guidance during live interaction (Khan, 2000). Dirckinck- Holmfield et al. (2004) and Arbaugh (2000b) highlight the importance of designing virtual communities to enable different patterns and types of interaction, for example, active participation and quieter periods of reflection. These types of interaction are feasible among participants in the virtual classroom (Arbaugh, 2000b). However it is unknown whether students in an online or blended course perceive more (or less) interactivity using this instructional method.

B. Synchronous: Gillmore and Warren (2007) describe synchronous technologies, as ones that “connect users at the same time, with each participant needing to be ‘logged in’ to the software to exchange electronic messages with one another as if they were exchanging words in a face-to-face setting (p. 585).” Students in online courses are used to asynchronous technologies (e.g., e-mail, websites, and discussion boards), which require more independence (Dumont, 1996). However asynchronous technologies can be taxing if students feel obligated to be online all the time. Students have found balance in setting a routine schedule to participate in online activities (Allan, 2007), which may be extended and facilitated by the use of the virtual classroom even though it requires time synchronization. While existing literature does not focus on perceptions of synchrony within virtual learning, several researchers have examined how synchronicity and asynchronicity affect student achievement, attitudes, and retention. They concluded that asynchronous instruction is more favourable in terms of student outcomes than mediated synchronous or traditional instruction (Bernard, et al., 2004; 2009). Bernard et al. (2004) asserts that knowing the influence of patterns, such as synchronous and asynchronous communication, can guide instructional design when instructors have choice. Therefore we seek to understand student perceptions of synchrony in the virtual classroom in both online and blended courses.

C. Usefulness and Ease of Use: Usefulness is the functionality of the technology, whereas ease of use is how simple it is to become skillful in using the technology. Arbaugh (2000a) suggests that perceived usefulness and the perceived ease of use of technology influences one’s beliefs and attitudes toward that technology. In his article on meaningful web-based or distance learning environments, Khan (2000) indicates that well-designed course “interfaces can anticipate learner’s needs and satisfy the learner’s natural curiosity to explore the unknown. This capability can greatly reduce students’ frustration levels and facilitate a user-friendly distance learning environment” (p. 30). Khan acknowledges that access may be hampered by typical problems related to servers such as connection refusal. Students in online or blended courses may view the utility and ease of use of the virtual classroom differently, which has implications for instructional design and method, as well as learning.

D. Sense of Community: The development of virtual learning or distance learning environments is based on the belief that learning should happen within communities (Allan, 2007). Hence, the sense of community focuses on the students’ experience and their relationship with each other in the virtual classroom. Four elements are essential for a sense of community – membership, influence, integration, and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection (McMillan & Chavis, 1986 as described in Arbaugh, 2000a). In support of this, Ardichvili (2008) asserts “people tend to actively contribute to online communities when they perceive that this enhances their professional reputations, and when they feel a strong commitment to the community … (p. 544).” Identifying student’s sense of community in online and blended courses may lead to adjustments that increase the effective use of the virtual classroom and learning outcomes.

2.2.4 Technology for Virtual learning and classroom

Now various technologies have been developed to provide support for virtual learning. From these we can easily select one and use it to maintain our distance learning facilities. Before selecting we need to go through these technical services we must aware about their different service packages. Different services provide different facilities. The renowned technologies are sited below.

* Cisco WebEx – http://www.webex.com

* Wimba Collaboration Suite – https://wimba.com/products/wimba_collaboration_suite/  

* Adobe – http://www.adobe.com

* Moodle VLE – https://vle.wit.ie

* Wiziq – http://www.wiziq.com/Virtual_Classroom.aspx 

* Visionet – http://www.visionet.in/index.html

2.2.5 Advantages of Virtual Classroom for Distance Learning

Following are some of the advantages of Virtual classroom over traditional classroom model:

Removal of geographical barriers (Anywhere learning): A virtual classroom allows learners and teachers to attend a single live training session from any place in the world, provided they have a computer and Internet connection.

Sessions can be recorded: If learners miss a traditional classroom-based training session, they have very little opportunity to engage in the distance learning experience that took place.  A virtual classroom has a facility to record the session so learners or teachers can replay it afterwards. Teachers too get an opportunity to review their own or their colleagues’ performance.

Quicker to organize: Training can be organized more quickly than traditional classroom-based training. Classrooms and projectors do not need to be reserved; materials do not need to be distributed. The sessions are easier to schedule or reschedule since attendees will not be traveling to the venue of the session.

One to one communication: In a virtual learning environment, learners can talk to the teacher and to each other, and although this communication is not as rich in a traditional classroom, it still can help learners, since it is one to one.

Due to these advantages, concept of virtual classroom is getting very popular. Since it allows learners to attend sessions from anywhere in world, it is very useful for distant learners and for peoples who cannot meet face to face because of lack of time. Though it gives lots of advantages, it has some pitfalls also. Following section describes some limitations of virtual classroom.

2.2.6 Limitations of Virtual learning or classroom over Traditional classroom 

Everything has some limitations. Virtual classroom also has some restraints. Those are cited below:

Familiarity: Teachers and students need to become familiar with the tools. Teachers and students are familiar with the workings of a traditional classroom, that is, they understand the concepts of hand raising, the whiteboard, assignments, and so forth. With a virtual classroom, all attendees must become familiar with the way the virtual classroom works before virtual classroom-based training starts.

Time dependency: Time dependency for Live Sessions Attending virtual classroom training is restricted to a certain scheduled time.

Infrastructure: Infrastructure for the participants PC needs to be prepared Virtual learning sessions need to be scheduled, teachers need to be invited, and participants’ PCs need to be prepared.

Technical Limitations: Technical issues such as bandwidth, speed of the connection or power failure may create problem while presentation is going on.

3. Implementation Strategies of virtual learning for Bangladesh

Before selecting any technique we need to point out the concerning issues. For implementing virtual classroom in Bangladesh we have to keenly observes the below issues:

– Select a qualified instructor.

– Provide complete instruction.

– Simplify tasks for learners.

– Manage teams and deal with problem learners.

– Enable interpersonal communication.

– Consider the speed of learners’ network connections.

– Layer learning activities:

Above issues are generic issues; along with this there are also some few concerns especially for Bangladesh. We should consider these before implementing virtual classroom.

* When Creating a virtual classroom:

– Who will use it and how they will use it?

– Wholly online or a supplement?  

– Available for all the Internet users or only to those enrolled in the course?

* What is necessary in use of a virtual classroom?

– Well-designed web pages.

– Necessary equipment.

There are also some different steps for implementing virtual learning in Bangladesh. According to our perspective, the steps are:

– Assess the needs and the necessary conditions to satisfy specific target group

– Estimate the development cost, effort, and implications

– Plan the virtual classroom

– Design the virtual classroom

– Prepare and distribute contents

– Enable communication

– Implement online student assessment methods Teaching

– Implement class management procedures

– Set up the system

– Maintain and update the virtual classroom

These steps described below:

Step One: Assess the needs and the necessary conditions to satisfy specific target group

We begin assuming that the reader has a very basic knowledge of virtual classroom concepts, pros, and cons and wants to perform a feasibility analysis before proceeding into actual implementation. The main purpose of this step is to assure the existence of a need for the proposed virtual learning and the basic infrastructure to develop it. Simply you assess ‘what is’, the current state of conditions, available system, etc., and what ought to be,’ desired output.

By assessing what is and what ought to be, you have assessed the need and figured out a gap to be bridged. Thus, some questions that should be answered at this stage are:

a. Are there remote students for that course?

b. Will they be able to access the course site and perform all the necessary interactions?

c. Is there institutional support and interest?

d. Are there administrative policies and procedures for these cases?

Step Two: Estimate the development cost, effort, and implications

At this point, it is assumed that the basic needs and the necessary conditions to satisfy those needs have been assessed. In other words, the approach looks feasible enough to move one step further and start talking about numbers. The main purpose of this step is to reach a clear, accurate, quantitative estimate of the overall cost of developing the virtual classroom. Some important questions at this stage are:

a. How long is it going to take develops the virtual classroom?

b. Which tools will be needed? How much will they cost? Which equipment will they require?

c. How many people with which specific will be needed?

d. How much will the development impact the instructor’s workloads?

e. How much will it impact the teaching methods used so far?

f. What are the institution’s Web publishing and Internet access policies?

g. How much of the total contents are already available in electronic format?

h. What will be the software/hardware requirements for the client (student) machine?

i. What will be the software/hardware requirements for the server machine?

Step Three: Plan the virtual classroom

After having estimated the overall cost of developing the virtual classroom, assessed its impact on existing structures, and established some of its minimum requirements, it is time to look more closely at the project from an educational perspective. Some questions to help assessing the pedagogical feasibility of the proposed project are:

a. What are the educational goals?

b. How will these goals be accomplished?

c. Which goals will possibly not be accomplished and how can we compensate for them?

d. Which approaches could be used to achieve a given goal? Which of them is more viable?

Step Four: Design the virtual learning

Now that the pedagogical aspects of the proposed project have been assessed, it is time to start the actual design process. Here are some questions to help at this stage:

a. How will the (maybe thousands of) HTML pages be structured?

b. Can we provide a (preferably consistent) “look-and-feel” for the Web pages?

c. What should be the layout for a typical course page?

d. How fancy should the pages be? What is the related hardware/software/technology impact?

You may read the first part of this article from here.

About the author

Aklima Sharmin

Aklima Sharmin

Aklima Sharmin is working as a Divisional Education Coordinator (Dhaka and Chittagong Area), World Vision Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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